Denney’s Law

Last month February Philip A. Denney, MD, was sent documents revealing that an undercover Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent and a civilian confidential informant had visited his Redding office in the Fall of 2005 under false pretenses and obtained letters of approval to medicate with cannabis. Denney’s objections to being investigated were reported in the Anderson Valley Advertiser and Counterpunch.

On Sunday (2/25) the Redding Record Searchlight ran a piece by Christina Lucarotti-Stubler quoting law enforcement’s Through-the-Looking-Glass response: Because the doctor wasn’t the primary subject of the investigation, he wasn’t investigated! “Redding police said they were not investigating Denney but Dixon Herbs, a small medicinal marijuana dispensary,” wrote Lucarotti-Stubler. “The purpose of visiting Denney’s office, Redding police Chief Leonard Moty said, was to obtain signed statements from a physician that could then be used to purchase pot at Dixon Herbs. ‘Many people use (the medicinal marijuana law) as a means to get around illegal use of marijuana,’ Moty said. The investigation into Dixon Herbs ‘demonstrates how easy it is (to get a recommendation). It speaks a little bit to the credibility of the examination.’

“Both Moty and District Attorney Jerry Benito said Denney was never the focus of the investigation. ‘Under the medicinal marijuana laws, we cannot touch the doctors in any way,’ Benito said… The aim of the investigation was to build a case against Dixon Herbs, Benito said. ‘If he feels like somehow he was used or exploited to get a recommendation, perhaps he should review his procedures.'”

Denney feels the comments of Chief Moty and DA Benito add insult to injury. “The visits to my office are written up in detailed reports headed ‘Investigative Narrative.’ If my practice wasn’t investigated, what’s the right word for it? ‘Infiltrated?’ ‘Penetrated?’ ‘Spied on?’ Then they make disparaging remarks about my procedures -it’s outrageous. And the fact that I feel violated and threatened, personally, isn’t what’s most objectionable. The effect of Moty’s move against Dixon Herbs is that a thousand or so patients in the Redding area are forced onto the black market to buy their medicine. Is that really what the chief of police wants? Even if Dixon Herbs was not 100 percent up to snuff, it was far better than the alternative and deserved to be worked with. That’s what the law requires -safe and affordable access. The collusion between the state agencies and the feds is for no other purpose than to overturn the will of the voters. What does that say about the state of our democracy?”

Denney has asked his attorney to evaluate the prospects of a suit against Chief Moty for slander. He is also seeking to determine whether the federal agencies involved violated the injunction issued in Conant v. McCaffrey protecting doctors who perform cannabis consultations, and whether the state agents violated Article 3, section 3.5 of the California Constitution, which reads: “An administrative agency, including an administrative agency created by the Constitution or an initiative statute, has no power: (a) To declare a statute unenforceable, or refuse to enforce a statute, on the basis of it being unconstitutional unless an appellate court has made a determination that such statute is unconstitutional; (b) To declare a statute unconstitutional; (c) To declare a statute unenforceable, or to refuse to enforce a statute on the basis that federal law or federal regulations prohibit the enforcement of such statute unless an appellate court has made a determination that the enforcement of such statute is prohibited by federal law or federal regulations.”

Denney tells your correspondent that the small spate of publicity has resulted in numerous calls to his Redding office from patients concerned about the sanctity of their records. “One patient drove all the way from Truckee to request that we return his files, which he then drove away with.” It made him rethink his original decision to publicize the intrusion of law enforcement into his practice. He’d been put in a bind, he realized: “either risk raising the fear level of my patients, or ignore the abuse of my rights -and theirs.”

The number of patients calling to make appointments did not decline in the week after his situation was written up, Denney says. “In general, the circle of patients keeps widening month by month, year by year. Prop 215 was like a rock thrown into a lake and the ripples keep expanding as a result of face-to-face, person-to-person conversations. Every day, more people hear from somebody they know and trust -somebody they’re prepared to believe- that cannabis really does have medicinal effect, that it worked for them, that the side effects are relatively mild. Law enforcement simply cannot stop this ever widening circle of understanding. That’s where the new patients have been coming from -friends, family, trusted acquaintances.”

This observation has implications for every political organizer in every field: society-changing movements are built person-to-person. Many activists would have us believe that the perfect soundbite, aired to the right markets, direct-mailed to the right addresses, delivered by pre-recorded message to the right phone numbers, will transform our society. This is an illusion advanced by those who claim special expertise in “media messaging.” In truth, the way to build a movement is one-on-one conversation.

If any young folks out there are thinking about building a party to change our society from greed-based to egalitarian, bear in mind Denney’s Law: Real movements get built person-to-person.

FRED GARDNER is the editor of O’Shaughnessy’s Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group. He can be reached at:


Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at