Chronic City: Getting It Wrong -- What's The Press-Enterprise Been Smoking?

dr bent resized.jpg
Dr. Tom Bent, president, California Academy of Family Physicians
Riverside newspaper the Press-Enterprise reported yesterday that "observers don't expect a flood of applicants for medical Marijuana cards" even though challenges by San Diego and San Bernardino counties to California's medical pot law have been turned away by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The P-E's Lora Hines, soberly noted that "Despite the court's decision, federal law still prohibits the use of Marijuana and doctors are reluctant to risk their licenses to recommend it," going by the word of Dr. Tom Bent, president of the California Academy of Family Physicians. Bent, who practices in Laguna Beach, claimed that "he knows of a doctor whose dispensary was raided."

"That's had a chilling effect," intoned Bent, whose organization represents doctors statewide. "Personally, I am a coward. I am not willing to be arrested by the federal government. I have worked too long and too hard for that medical license."

The esteemed Dr. Bent went on to say "all our information" about Marijuana "is anecdotal. There's no science."

That would certainly come as surprise to the doctors and scientists who have conducted hundreds of research projects on thousands of patients for the the past four decades, making Marijuana one of the most heavily researched pharmacologically active compounds in the history of man. Anti-pot folks have been saying since the '60s that "there's no science" on Marijuana, blithely ignoring the mountain of scientific evidence amassed since then.

I don't know what Bent's bent out of shape about, but one thing is clear. Whatever Bent and Hines have been smoking, they definitely haven't been hitting the clue bong.

Yes, I know being a doctor -- or a reporter! -- isn't an easy job, but one does expect a certain acquaintance with relevant facts in professions with such high levels of responsibility to the public. And Bent's statements, printed unchallenged by reporter Hines, are factually incorrect -- and are very misleading.

First of all, Bent seems completely unaware that under the medical Marijuana distribution system in place in California, doctors don't operate dispensaries. Doctors merely recommend the medical use of Marijuana for those patients they believe would be helped by the herb, and patients, with those recommendations in hand, then visit Marijuana dispensaries which are operated by businessmen, not doctors.

Secondly, the issue about which Bent expressed concern -- that doctors could lose their medical licenses for recommending Marijuana -- was settled at the U.S. Supreme Court level years ago! 

Then-President George W. Bush and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, back in 2002, asked the Supreme Court for permission to punish doctors who recommend medical Marijuana. Bush and Ashcroft got their asses handed to them (legally speaking) by the Supremes in the case of Conant vs. Walters. In a silent rebuke to the Bush Administration, the Court refused to hear the federal government's appeal of a lower court decision blocking the feds from punishing doctors who recommend medical Marijuana to their patients.

While it wouldn't be reasonable to expect Bent or reporter Hines to be familiar with all the intricacies of state and federal laws restricting cannabis, it is not unreasonable to expect both of them to be somewhat conversant with a Supreme Court decision that already settles an issue they are discussing as if it's still to be decided.

Hines' story goes even farther afield by quoting one Roger Anderson, "spokesman for the Inland Valley Drug Free Coalition." It seems to be important to Anderson to deny that anything has changed, even though the Supreme Court's refusal to take up the counties' challenge against issuing medical pot cards is seen by practically every expert in the field as hugely significant. According to the P-E, Anderson "said the court ruling doesn't change anything." Anderson also helpfully tells us that "he thinks most Californians believe the state program is a way for people to get high, not pain relief."

Wait, didn't we already vote on this? And wasn't that settled 13 years ago?

Hines' story gets that wrong, too, by the way. Hines erroneously states that Proposition 215, the Medical Marijuana Program Act, was passed by state lawmakers in 2003, when it fact it was passed the the voters, not legislature, in 1996. (SB 420, which fine-tuned the medical Marijuana law, was approved by the legislature in 2003.)

Shame on Dr. Bent for making misleading and fear-mongering statements designed to have the very "chilling effect" he describes -- statements that are clearly in error. And double shame on reporter Hines and the Press-Enterprise for not recognizing and challenging misinformation when it is mouthed by a public official -- and thus not bothering to get the story right.

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