Licensed For Life: 87-Year-Old Doctor Accused Of Marketing Pot To Patients

Published on
May 11, 2012

kush doctor, medical marijuana, william heisel, lawrence hansen, reporting on health, health journalism, doctor oversightDr. Lawrence Hansen graduated from medical school in 1959. Eisenhower was president. Hawaii became the 50th state. And the Beatles had not recorded a single note.

After 50 years of practicing medicine, Hansen should have developed some hard-to-replicate medical expertise and invaluable knowledge of how to treat patients. Instead, according to the Medical Board of California, his skill set deteriorated.

The Orange County coroner found that, at the age of 83, Hansen had punctured a woman's vaginal wall during a cosmetic surgery procedure, and she bled to death. By the time he was 86, the board decided to ban him from operating on patients. Earlier this year, he lost a malpractice lawsuit that resulted in a $6.2 million judgment.

So what does an 87-year-old doctor with that kind of record do?

One option, apparently, is to go work for an unauthorized medical marijuana dispenser.

Set aside your feelings about whether marijuana should be illegal and whether, at a minimum, it should be sold for medicinal purposes, as it is in California. Some physicians do prescribe marijuana and its derivatives for specific conditions, particularly chronic pain. But they usually do so after considering a range of diagnoses and a range of possible treatments. Marijuana is just one option among many.

Hansen was caught working at a clinic where the treatment options had been narrowed down to one. Kush Doctor in Venice, California, takes its name from a type of marijuana, as fans of Harold & Kumar films may know. Marijuana leaves cover the company's website and the t-shirts it sells.

To understand how serious Kush Doctor is about medicine, one need only to watch the video displayed prominently on the site. It includes, a woman posing as a patient and saying, "What's up? I'm the champ from the Hash Bar Olympics. I gotta get ready for the Hash Cup, so I need my renewal." An elderly doctor, announced only as "Dr. Weill," is quoted making outrageous claims about marijuana curing depression and encouraging people to smoke more marijuana to lower their cancer risk. "More marijuana = less cancer" flashes across the screen. This is a gross exaggeration of the findings from one study. Then Weill, after seeing a series of young women in his office, asks while snickering "Where do we do the pelvic exam?"

Undercover medical board investigators did not have to work very hard to uncover the real motives of the operation. They found, among other things, that Kush Doctor's clinics were not owned by a doctor named Kush. They were not owned by any doctor – a direct violation of state law. And what went on inside the clinics was far from medical. Here are some highlights from the medical board records:

The undercover officers, posing as patients, arrived at the 1313 location just before noon. They observed the facility to be a garage with the doors open. There was a posted sign which read "Kush." Two Caucasian females were in front of the store holding signs and calling out to people, advertising medical marijuana. The undercover officers entered the store and were greeted by an African American male in his mid thirties who spoke with an accent. The man asked if the undercover officer wanted to get "legalized" and explained that the undercover officer could get legalized to use marijuana. The undercover officer asked how does it work and was told that a licensed doctor would issue a recommendation for $150. The undercover officer said that the price was too high. The price of $70 was suggested and agreed upon.

Wouldn't it be nice to show up at a clinic and be able to negotiate the price beforehand? And $70 wasn't even the lowest price. As it turns out, some patients were getting "legalized" for $50. This prompted one doctor to shout at the Kush Doctor desk clerk, "If you keep charging $50, then I'm leaving."

As I said, Kush Doctor is a very professional medical establishment.

When a medical board investigator went to another Kush Doctor clinic, just a few blocks away, he was told that getting "legalized" would cost $115. After he paid, he was given a "recommendation card," which he took next door. For $20, he bought some marijuana.

What was the condition the officer said prompted him to see medical help? "The undercover officer wrote that he was seeking marijuana for relief from headaches resulting from heavy drinking and inability to sleep."

Sounds like the jokey atmosphere of Kush Doctor was infectious.

The next time investigators went to the clinics, they brought search warrants. They asked questions. And they found out that the doctors – including Hansen – were getting a nice cut of the money being generated: 33 percent.

That was enough for the medical board to charge Hansen in March 2012 with dishonest or corrupt acts, aiding or abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine and unprofessional conduct.

I have some advice for Hansen and his attorney. Tell the board, "You told everyone in a public record that I contributed to the death of a patient. You told everyone that I was the subject of a $6.2 million lawsuit settlement. You took away my ability to do surgical procedures.  But you stopped short of taking away my license. What type of job did you think an 87-year-old doctor with that kind of record was going to get?"

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