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The Investigation of Dr. Denney
"I feel invaded," said Philip A. Denney, MD, at the start of the week. "I feel violated and I’m trying to figure out what to do about it." An anonymous concerned citizen had sent him documents revealing that two of the patients he examined last Fall had come to his office under false pretenses. One was a federal agent -Steve Decker of the Alcohol, Tobocco and Firearms Bureau, using a fake name- and one was a Confidential Informant assigned by the Redding Police Department. The documents reveal involvement by DEA agents, FBI agents (from "Operation Safe Streets," which is supposed to focus on violent crime), as well Redding PD officers.
Denney, who has been licensed in California for almost 30 years and has never run afoul of the medical board, has a cannabis-oriented practice in partnership with Robert E. Sullivan, MD (whose record is equally impeccable) with offices in Sacramento, Orange County, and Redding. The infiltration of their practice apparently stemmed from an investigation of Dixon Herbs, a Redding dispensary run by a man named Ron Dixon. Ironically, Denney had some qualms about Dixon’s operation -"they rarely called to confirm recommendations," he says, and on a few occasions Dixon hired a doctor named Rosenthal to conduct ad hoc clinics at the dispensary, which Denney considered "ethically problematic." Dixon Herbs folded in December after being raided by a task force involving the same law enforcement agencies that snooped on Denney.
Denney was sent two "investigative narratives" written by RPD officer Tracy Miller. The first described ATF Agent Decker presenting at his office on the afternoon of November 9. (Decker identified himself as Steven P. Hoffmaster.) An excerpt follows:
"The receptionist asked for Agent Decker’s I.D. and medical records. Agent Decker said several years ago he had been to a hospital in Santa Clara but he did not know which one. The receptionist called several hospitals in the Santa Clara area. When she did not find any record of him visiting a hospital under the alias provided, she said that was no problem, that they would go ahead with the exam and she would continue to try to come up with the records.
"Agent Decker said he had a brief exam by Dr. Denney. Agent Decker told Dr. Denney his main complaint was pain in his neck. Decker had an old scar on his neck which he told the doctor was from a motorcycle accident, and that ever since the accident, he experiences daily pain. Decker said the doctor looked at the scar but did not touch or manipulate his neck in any way. After the exam, the doctor told him he was a good candidate for a medical marijuana recommendation. The doctor told Agent Decker that the recommendation was good for one year and would cost $100 to renew."
The second "investigative narrative" described an earlier penetration of Denney’s practice by a confidential informant. "Our taxpayer dollars at work," was the doctor’s overriding thought as he read it. "The phrase ‘a controlled buy of a marijuana prescription,’ is very revealing," he says. "It shows they think of me, and perhaps all physicians, in the same way they think of drug dealers on the street. It’s extremely insulting." Denney’s receptionist comes out looking conscientious and admirable -a person wanting to help her fellow citizens, especially those in need. Here’s the report in its stilted, trivial, costly, excruciating entirety.
On 09-21-05 at approximately 1415 hours, Redding Police Department Investigator WALLACE, DEA Agent HALE, and I met and conducted a briefing regarding using a confidential informant to make a controlled buy of a marijuana prescription.
After finishing the briefing, Investigator WALLACE went to the area of 1522 Charles drive, which is the office of Dr. Philip A. DENNEY. Investigator WALLACE got into a position that he could watch the doctor’s office from the street.
Agent HALE and I met with the CI, hereafter known as CI#3. I checked CI#3’s person for contraband and money, while Agent HALE checked CI#3’S vehicle. Neither Agent Hale nor I located any money or contraband. Due to the fact this transaction was gong to be taking place in a doctor’s office, we chose not to fit CI#3 with a covert transmitter or monitoring device. Instead we maintained communication with CI#3 via cell phone. I gave CI#3 $200.00 in recorded funds of the purchase of the marijuana prescription.
Agent HALE and I followed CI#3 from our prearranged meeting point to 1522 Charles Crive in Redding, California. As soon as CI#3 turned onto Charles Drive, Investigator WALLACE advised that he had CI#3 in view. CI#3 parked directly in front of 1522 Charles Drive, got out of his/her vehicle and at 1543 hours went inside the doctor’s office.
While we were waiting for CI#3 to complete the transaction, an unknown female came out of the doctor’s office, walked around CI#3’s vehicle once, specifically looking at his/er license plate, then went back inside.
At 1630 hours, CI#3 came out of the doctor’s office and called Agent HALE’S cell phone. CI#3 said they had been granted the prescription but they had to wait for the certificate to be filled out, and that would take approximately 15 minutes. CI#3 then went back inside the office to wait for the prescription to be filled out.
At approximately 1648 hours, CI#3 exited the doctor’s office carrying a green folder. He/she got into his/her vehicle and drove away. CI#3 was in Investigator WALLACE’S field of view all the way to the intersection of Charles and Mountain Lakes, which is where agent HALE and I were waiting to follow him/her to a predetermined meeting point.
Agent HALE and I followed CI#3 to a predetermined meeting point. Once at the point,m CI#3 gave me a green folder containing a recoimmendation for the use of marijuana signed by Dr. DENNEY. Also contained in the green pholder was a photocopy of the official, embossed certificate, and a receipt for $200.00.
I asked CI#3 what occurred during his/her visit. He/she told me that upon entering the doctor’s office, he/she met with the receptionist, "Amanda." He/she told Amanda that "Will" from Merchant St. [the location of Dixon Herbs] sent him/her and that he/she didn’t have an appointment. Amanda told CI#3 that was no problem. Amanda asked CI#3 for his/her medical records and he/she told her that he/she recently moved from Mississippi, and their records were unavailable. He/she told me that the receptionist got up and went out and looked at CI#3 vehicle and confirmed there were in fact Mississippi plates on the vehicle. Amanda came back inside and told him/her that would be no problem. CI#3 said he/she had to fill out a very brief form and then saw Dr. DENNEY.
CI#3 tomd me that Dr. DENNEY gave him/her a physical examination. Dr. DENNEY asked CI#3 his/her chief complaint and he/she said a pinched sciatic nerve. Dr. DENNEY asked if CI#3 had attempted any other mainstream prescription medications and CI#3 said they bother his/her stomach.
Dr. DENNEY told CI#3 that he/she was a candidate for the use of medical marijuana. Dr. DENNEY explained that the marijuana was to be used only as prescribed, and not recreationally.
While waiting for the prescription to be filled out, CI#3 engaged Amanda in conversation. CI#3 told me Amanda indicated she was a volunteer fire fighter, and that she and some other members of her crew were interested in going to the area struck by Hurricane Katrina to assist with recovery efforts. She then told him/her she wouldn’t be able to make it, however, due to this being harvest time, and her not being able to abandon her crop.
Denney says, "I examine patients in good faith and it bothers me to be treated this way. Is this not an end-run around the Conant decision [the injunction prohibiting federal agents from punishing doctors who discuss marijuana as a treatment option]? I was led to believe that if I did this appropriately and I followed the rules laid out in Conant that I would protected. And now I find out that I’m being surreptitiously investigated by federal agents. It has a very chilling effect, to put it mildly."
One of the documents Denney received refers to a DEA case number – apparently from a previous investigation of which he was unaware. He fired off the following letter to Special Agent Decker, AKA Hoffmaster:
"I have recently learned that your visit to our office on November 9, 2005, was under an assumed name and with a forged California driver’s license. Your visit, I learned, was part of a government surveillance operation in cooperation with the Redding Police Department.
"Despite signing a document stating that all the information you provided was true under penalty of perjury, you skillfully lied and falsified documents in order to obtain a medicinal cannabis recommendation.
"You were such a skillful liar, I can’t help but wonder how you keep track of when you lie and when you tell the truth. It must be difficult.
"I’m also troubled by how much taxpayer money was spent on this operation and how you justify spending any of the taxpayers money investigating legal cannabis uers when methamphetamine abuse is such a scourge in our community. I would hate to think of any law enforcement officer as cowardly, but infiltrating a physician’s office certainly seems less risky than pursuing violent criminals.
"Under these circumstances I must advise that your recommendation is invalid because it was obtained by fraud.
"If in the future you or any other law enforcement officer wishes to visit our office, you are welcome at any time. I would be pleased to discuss our procedures and policies regarding the legitimate use of cannabis as medicine. There is no need to be a liar.
Philip A. Denney, MD"
By the end of the week, Denney was considering taking other steps. His lawyer, Zenia Gilg, says "The investigation of Dr. Denney’s practice amounts to a clear breach of the Conant injunction." Could the feds claim they were investigating Denney to determine whether he was ITAL abusing END ITAL the protection of Conant by providing patients with cannabis or helping them obtain it? No, says Gilg. Neither Agent Decker nor CI#3 made any attempt to ask the doctor questions along those lines.
Federal agents have taken part in the investigation of at least four other pro-cannabis California doctors. One, Robert Sterner, MD, of San Diego, already has a suit in the works that will charge violations of the Conant injunction.
Cannaboid Blocker Blocked–For Now
The Food and Drug Administration issued an "approvable letter" Feb. 16 for the drug Rimonabant, which Sanofi Aventis intends to sell in the U.S. as Acomplia. The FDA wants additional data from the company but is not requiring that more clinical trials be conducted before Acomplia can be marketed for weight loss. Sanofi’s bid for approval of Acomplia as a smoking-cessation drug was turned down.
Acomplia works by blocking the body’s cannabinoid receptor system. California doctors who are conversant with the beneficial effects of cannabis have warned vociferously that blocking the endocannabinoid system could have dangerous ramifications. Tod Mikuriya, MD, on behalf of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, sent the FDA a master list of all the conditions and symptoms reportedly alleviated by the herb itself. "It appears that our concerns were shared," he said upon learning of the Feb. 16 decision.
But his sense of accomplishment was short-lived. Sanofi’s CEO, Jean-Francois Dehecq, said on French television Feb. 22 that the FDA’s questions can be answered in a matter of months and that he still expects Acomplia to be on U.S. pharmacy shelves by the end of the year. Sanofi, headquartered in France, is the world’s third biggest pharmaceutical manufacturer.
The Journal of the American Medical Association published results Feb. 15 of a major clinical trial of Acomplia in which a year of treatment with a 20mg daily dose resulted in weight loss of 14 pounds and waist reduction of 2.4 inches (versus 4 pounds and less than an inch for placebo takers). But 51% of the patients dropped out after a year, and 76 of the 333 patients dropped out during the second year (and all promptly regained weight). Depression and other mood disorders were almost three times as prevalent among those and other mood disorders were almost three times as prevalent among those