‘Dr. Marijuana’ suspended for indiscriminately referring thousands of patients for medical weed

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Source – https://www.nj.com/essex/2019/01/dr-marijuana-suspended-for-indiscriminately-referring-thousands-of-patients-for-medical-weed.html

Anthony Anzalone once called himself “Dr. Marijuana” and advertises as “NJGreenMD” because he was among the first physicians to participate in New Jersey’s medicinal marijuana program and claimed he referred more patients than any of his peers.

On Thursday, Anzalone earned the dubious distinction of being the first doctor associated with the program to jeopardize his license, by “indiscriminately authorizing” more than 3,000 patients — including some who never would have qualified —without examining them and their medical records, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced.

The trained obstetrician and gynecologist made himself rich by meeting patients in rented hotel ball rooms across the state and charging $350 for the initial visit and $100 every quarter to re-up each patient’s registration in the program. He authorized 3,250 patients over four years, Grewal said.

Based on those fees and the total number of patients he registered, Anzalone likely made more than $1 million just off the consultation fees, according to Grewal’s announcement that the doctor’s license has been temporarily suspended.

“We allege that Dr. Anzalone exploited his patients and the MMP for his own gain, completely disregarding the regulations meant to protect patients and promote the efficacious use of medicinal marijuana,” said Paul Rodríguez, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, in a statement.

“By temporarily suspending Anzalone from practicing medicine, we are making it clear that we will not allow unscrupulous doctors to enrich themselves at the expense of the safety and welfare of their patients and the public.”

Investigators posing as patients helped expose Anzalone, Grewal said.

“State legislatures may relax their laws against marijuana – and many already have – but there are limits to what state law allows, and the public should know that we vigorously enforce those limits to protect public safety and prevent unlawful distribution,” Grewal said.

Since Gov. Phil Murphy took office last year, the program has more than doubled and now has nearly 40,000 patients, largely by broadening the list of qualifying conditions to include anxiety and various forms of chronic pain. But doctors have been reluctant to participate. Out of the 28,000 registered physicians, less than 900 have registered, with 40 percent more joining since Murphy became governor.

Anzalone fulfilled a need early on, registering with the program in 2012.

In 2013, he told NJ.com, he said his job was “to find out how the patients are doing when they come back, to see if it is working or not. And then to figure out another plan, OK, you need this, this and this. I’m looking to write a recommendation to that center or even bring it to that center with you and see what these guys can give you.”

But the state’s investigation found Anzalone did not screen patients to see if they met the qualifications for the program and he didn’t follow-up, according to the complaint released by the Attorney General’s office.

“We allege that Dr. Anzalone failed to adhere to even the most fundamental rules of New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program, a program carefully regulated to meet the public’s need for compassionate treatment alternatives while preventing unlawful marijuana distribution and use. We expect physicians to abide by the rules and regulations of their profession, no matter what kind of medicine they are practicing,” Grewal said.

Anzalone is innocent, said his attorney, Jef Henninger of Tinton Falls.

“Dr. Anzalone is a very popular doctor that takes great care of his patients. He is a trailblazer in this industry,” Henniger said in an email to NJ Advance Media. “Dr. Anzalone maintains his innocence and looks forward to having his license reinstated at the conclusion of this matter.”

State Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal said Anzalone’s roster of 2,077 active patients will not be stranded. The program will help find new physicians to take over his caseload.

The Department is assisting patients to find new physicians, who will assess them based on their medical history and make professional judgement about whether the patients qualify for treatment with medicinal marijuana,” Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner said.

The Board of Medical Examiners Wednesday temporarily suspended Anzalone, 66, of Cranford, who agreed to hand-off his patients and cease practicing by Feb. 8. His license will remain suspended until the board’s examination is done, Grewal said.

Anzalone made headlines nearly three years go when the office leasing company, Regus, evicted him from buildings in East Rutherford, Woodbridge and Neptune because of his involvement with cannabis, which remains illegal under federal law. Instead, he set up a traveling practice in hotel board rooms Lyndhurst, Jersey City, Woodbridge, Red Bank and Lakewood.

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