The Montana Board of Medical Examiners is cracking down on Montana Caregivers Network (MCN), the Missoula-based organization that conducts roving medical marijuana clinics throughout the state.
Last Friday, on the same day, coincidentally, the board adopted a position paper in response to mass medical marijuana screenings, it disciplined one of the 15 or so doctors MCN routinely hires to recommend medical marijuana to patients who come to its clinics. It marked the first time the board has taken action against a doctor in a case relating to medical marijuana.
The board sanctioned Whitefish-based physician Patricia Cole for failing to maintain the state's standards of care while seeing 151 patients in one day during a MCN clinic last October. The board also cited, among other things, Cole's failure to advise patients on proper marijuana dosage and potential side effects.
According to the order, which as of press time had yet to be finalized due to a clerical error, the board will fine Cole $2,000 and prohibit her from "serving as the consulting physician for third parties or caregivers in mass conference-like settings akin to that which gave rise to this action."
"I think the Board of Medical Examiners wants to have an impact on the clinics that are prescribing marijuana to lots of people," Cole says, "and I think they're hoping that by disciplining me they can take a step in that direction."
Cole retained the right to prescribe marijuana in her personal practice.
"I'm pleased to be able to continue to offer recommendations," Cole says, "because I've seen that marijuana can be extraordinarily helpful for people with some very difficult situations—chronic pain, epilepsy, migraines."
Cole says she reviewed many of the 151 patients' medical records online prior to the clinic, and thought she was operating within the state law.
MCN founder Jason Christ maintains she was, and says it will be proven should the board continue its reviews of other MCN-affiliated doctors.
"I'm confident—completely—that the lawyers that we have on board...will do their job and show the medical board that we have a clinical practice that is exactly the same in every way as other clinical practices," Christ says.
Christ estimates MCN doctors have approved between 70 and 80 percent of Montana's roughly 14,000 medical marijuana patients.