BILLINGS, Mont. -- Plenty of Montana doctors supported the voter initiative that made medical marijuana legal, but good luck finding one who supports what is happening now.
Medical providers across the state are mystified and angered by the way hundreds of Montanans have secured "green cards," or medical marijuana cards, at mass clinics staffed by out-of-state doctors.
"I think it's being corrupted," said Dr. Jim Guyer, director of the medical clinic at RiverStone Health in Billings. "What I see is there's been a wedge developed and the door's open. The people coming through the door are exploiting it. The people who are going to get hurt are the people the law was intended for."
Guyer and others who voted for the 2004 Medical Marijuana Act believed it would allow people suffering from terminal illnesses or a handful of other debilitating diseases to ease their pain with marijuana.
"I didn't envision there would be marijuana stores on every corner of Grand Avenue and these fairs at the Holiday Inn," said Dr. Deric Weiss, an internist at Billings Clinic who chairs the hospital's ethics committee. "Most of us envisioned it would be through your personal physician and part of a comprehensive plan of care."
Some patients have asked their regular doctors for help in accessing medical marijuana.
Under the Medical Marijuana Act, providers do not prescribe marijuana but certify that a person has a medical condition that qualifies for treatment with the drug. The state Department of Public Health and Human Services issues licenses based on provider authorizations.
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But many, if not the majority, of medical marijuana patients in Montana have been authorized by physicians at traveling clinics set up inside convention centers or hotel ballrooms.
The doctors' identities are kept secret, but it is clear that they are not Montana residents. In a day, they see more than 100 patients who have paid to be evaluated.
"We have reached the point in Montana where medical marijuana certification is for sale with a physician's signature," Dr. Chris Christensen said during a recent meeting of the Montana Board of Medical Examiners in Bozeman.
Christensen, who runs a primary care clinic in Victor, said he has certified at least 3,000 patients for medical marijuana. But all of them received thorough assessments, and not everyone who asks for Christensen's signature gets it.
"I don't want to be painted with the same brush as physicians who sell their signatures," he said.
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