After a 10-day trial, it took a federal jury in Sacramento less than three hours August 16 to find Marion “Mollie” Fry, MD, and her husband, attorney Dale Schafer, guilty of conspiracy to grow and distribute marijuana. Schafer was represented by Tony Serra, Fry by Lawrence Lichter. The lawyers’ eloquence was no substitute for an admissible defense.
Schafer, 53, acknowledges that he grew cannabis -initially for his wife and himself, and then for some of her patients. He had intended to argue that he did so on the advice of counsel after a 1999 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made “medical necessity” a possible defense for marijuana distribution. But the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the 9th Circuit, and Judge Frank Damrell forbade Fry and Schafer from citing their once-possibly-valid belief that “medical necessity” justified marijuana production and sales.
Their only remaining hope was that a juror might disapprove of the war on drugs and vote not to convict on principle. Everyone in the jury pool who said they’d heard of California’s medical marijuana law got dismissed. Seven women and five men were seated. Two were people of color. One was a paralegal employed by a public defender’s office. The defendants and their well-wishers kept hoping, scanning faces for a glint of support.
Opening arguments hadn’t concluded before Damrell instructed the jury that any references to “medical” anything were irrelevant under federal law. He also told them that -contrary to what the defendants were saying on Christine Craft’s radio show- they absolutely had to abide by his instructions.
Your correspondent fantasized about making an opening statement, too:
What could possibly have possessed Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer, a successful doctor and lawyer, to grow marijuana and distribute it to her patients? Money isn’t a plausible motive. They were successful professionals whose lifestyle was modest; they had no need to supplement their income. So how did they lose perspective and take this outrageous, absurd risk?
A belief in God.
Mollie Fry’s office is in a town called Cool but she is the opposite of cool. She hugs you as if you were a most intimate friend and tells you everything she’s feeling. She emotes and dramatizes. She cries readily and profusely. She talks about what God wants and what God might do. God is justice and justice must prevail. Her God talk and her marijuana talk are in the same key and intertwine; the sacred herb, the healing herb, she makes no distinction. She goes all the way. She goes too far. She opens up her home to people in need. She takes in strays. She’s probably the most empathetic psychiatrist in California. She has suffered and she doesn’t want to see other people suffer. In her 40s she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which had killed her mother, who was also a psychiatrist, in her 40s. Mollie had both breasts removed. She attributes her survival to God. If she was involved in distributing marijuana to patients it was in the same spirit that she issued them approvals -doing God’s work, reducing human suffering. But the belief that she was doing God’s work is literally delusional. Shouldn’t a sincere belief in a just God qualify Fry and Schafer for an insanity defense?
Damrell put off sentencing until Nov. 26, for which the defendants were grateful. They both face five-year minimums. A key question is whether they’ll be allowed to remain free on bail while they appeal their conviction.
Conflicts of Interest ‘R’ Us
Conflict of interest is inherent in corporate medicine and cannot be reversed by superficial reforms -especially reforms involving voluntary compliance on the part of likely miscreants. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association July 25 concludes that padded hip protectors fail to prevent fractures in the elderly. Three of the authors didn’t inform JAMA that they had taken money from manufacturers of bone-strengthening drugs (whose sales might decline if padded hip protectors were shown to work). JAMA adopted a stricter disclosure policy in 2006 but doesn’t consult a database to confirm that authors are being forthcoming about their links to industry. Lindsey Tanner of the Associated Press discovered the conflict.
A Laguna Beach cosmetic dermatologist named Arnold Klein who injects the rich and famous with Botox -a “pioneer in the field,” according to a Wall St. Journal piece August 29- has urged the FDA to reconsider its approval of a product called ArteFill, a mixture of calf colleagen and tiny plastic beads that fills wrinkles permanently. Klein and six other celebrity dermatologists warned the FDA in July that ArteFill “may pose immediate, debilitating and disfiguring health risks.”
Indeed it may. It definitely poses immediate, debilitating financial risks to the Botox-injectors whose patients have to come back for touch-ups two or three times a year. “Dr. Klein has past and current ties to ArteFill competitors,” Rhonda L. Rundle reveals in her WSJ piece. “From 2000 until last April, Dr. Klein worked for Allergan Inc., which sells Botox and Juvederm, and since 2004 he has been a consultant to Restylane maker Medicis Pharmaceuticals Corp. Dr Klein, who made $250,000 a year from Allergan for several years, says such ties ‘have nothing to do whatsoever’ with his concerns about ArteFill. ‘I refuse to see the field of soft-tissue augmentation destroyed,’ he says of his motivation.
Patients in the U.S. must wait 26 days to have a possibly cancerous mole evaluated whereas the wait to get a Botox shot for wrinkles is eight days, according to a study by UCSF dermatologist Jack Resneck and colleagues published by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatologists in August. The cosmetic treatments tend to be easier and more lucrative for the dermatologists, who must wait for reimbursement by insurance companies when they provide medical treatment. An apologist for the skewed system, professor Alexa Kimball of Harvard Medical School, told the New York Times, “The study shows that the Botox needs of the United States are being met. If dermatologists stopped providing cosmetic care, it would not necessarily have an impact on medical dermatology patients.” Especially if the doctors used the freed-up time to play golf instead of treating patients with medical needs.
FRED GARDNER edits O’Shaughnessy’s, the journal of cannabis in clinical practice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org