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Lawmaker: Alert licensing boards in suspect medical pot cases

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Lawmaker: Alert licensing boards in suspect medical pot cases

  • State Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix.
    Gitzel Puente/Cronkite News ServiceState Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix.

PHOENIX — A lawmaker wants to make it clear that state officials can notify licensing boards when medical professionals are suspected of improperly recommending marijuana for patients.

Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, said clarifying in law that the Arizona Department of Health Services has such authority would help officials to enforce rules applying to the voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. HB 2035 specifies that recommending medical marijuana for other than a debilitating medical condition is unprofessional conduct.

“This bill protects patient safety,” Yee said.

The House Health and Human Services Committee endorsed the bill Wednesday on a 7-2 vote.

State rules require that health professionals recommending marijuana perform a physical exam, review medical history and check a database to ensure that a patient isn’t seeking different drugs from different doctors.

The measure authorizes the state health department to report suspected violations to the Arizona Medical Board, the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners, the Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board and the Board of Homeopathic and Integrated Medicine Examiners. It would require those boards to provide annual reports listing the number of notifications and resulting investigations to the governor, legislative leaders and the director of the Department of Health Services.

Colby Bower, chief legislative liaison for the Department of Health Services, said officials have discovered that about 40 percent of the medical marijuana certifications issued to date have come from about 10 physicians.

While state officials already report suspicious behavior to licensing boards, Bower said, “I think this legislation makes it much clearer that the department can share that information and establish a regular link with those boards.”

Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, a physician, joined Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, in voting against the measure, noting the state health officials already do what it calls for.

“Very simply, Yee’s bill is not necessary,” Heinz said.

But Theresa Ulmer, a consultant with Tucson Alternative Medical Solutions, a company that offers medical marijuana recommendations for qualified patients, told the committee she supports the bill because it strengthens the law.

“As we look forward to dispensaries opening and implementing this program fully, patient safety is our No. 1 goal,” Ulmer said.

The Arizona Medical Board, Arizona Medical Association, Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association and Arizona Naturopathic Association were among the organizations registering support for the bill.

Yee said most medical professionals agree that her bill would help hold violators accountable.

“Those in the medical community are highly supportive of it because they want to maintain integrity in the system and in their respective vocations,” she said.

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