Last week, the Colorado Medical Board suspended the licenses of four doctors for allegedly recommending too much marijuana to patients. The doctors turned around and sued the health board, winning a temporary stay on the suspensions while they decide whether to proceed in administrative court or district court. This is the most sweeping punishment doled out to medical marijuana doctors in the system's nearly 20-year existence.
Among the four is Dr. William Stone, who practices at the MedEval Clinic on the northeast side of Colorado Springs. His suspension order, issued July 19, contains the written findings of the board's inquiry panel. The panel accuses Stone of signing more than 400 recommendations for possession of more than 75 plants. That, plus Stone's performing evaluations online rather than in person, led the panel to take "emergency action." The other three doctors are also accused of recommending more than 75 plants to hundreds of patients — what law enforcement professionals say is an abuse of the legal system that is feeding the black market.
In question are a state statute governing "unprofessional conduct" in medical practice and the section of the Colorado Constitution that says doctors can recommend no more marijuana than is "medically necessary." Curiously, the order emphasizes that Dr. Stone "authorized the certifications for conditions other than cancer" despite there being no provision of the law dictating extended plant counts only be reserved for cancer patients. Eight conditions qualify Colorado patients for medical marijuana.
The Cannabis Patient Rights Coalition, a local marijuana advocacy group, issued a statement cautioning against a rush to judgment but acknowledging that purging bad apples could be healthy. "If it is proven that these doctors were writing unjustified recommendations or were working with organized crime, CPRC feels they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," the group commented.
"Don't drink the water," cautioned a reverse 911 call last week to all 750 residents of Hugo in eastern Colorado. Why? It could get you high. Well, supposedly.
The strange story began when a Hugo company told public health officials that a drug test of tap water — which it did for a point of reference while testing employees — came back positive for THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. That grew into full-blown panic when the sheriff's office reported evidence of forced entry and tampering at one of the town's well sites.
The Colorado and federal bureaus of investigation got involved, free water bottles were rushed in and residents were warned of "worst-case possible effects [...] of short-term ingestion": increased anxiety and/or heart rate; impaired coordination, thinking, learning ability and memory; and psychotic symptoms like hallucinations, paranoia or delusions.
Lincoln County Public Health director Susan Kelly recommended "anyone with physical concerns that they may have been affected to call the poison control center."
In contrast to that stark tone, nationwide followers of the story joked online about rushing to, rather than away from, Hugo for a taste of the magic water.
Observers also noted that THC is both fat-soluble and expensive in mass amounts, so the prospect of "lacing" a town's water supply might've been a paranoid delusion.
Joseph Evans, director of the Denver-based marijuana testing lab Nordic Analytical and former EPA scientist, articulated that in the Denver Post, telling a reporter that "the one thing that bothers me about this story from a scientific perspective is that THC is so insoluble in water. I can't imagine, I can't even fathom the idea that THC would be in water at any type of solubility to create any kind of health hazard."
Finally, over the weekend, tests confirmed no THC in Hugo's water; the whole affair was false.
"We are happy to report that the water advisory is canceled immediately," the Sheriff's Office wrote on Facebook Saturday. "Please resume any and all water activities."
Meanwhile, south of Colorado Springs, a watered-down response to real toxins in 80,000 people's drinking water is just starting to trickle into action.