In New Jersey a gynecologist has had his medical license suspended for authorizing too many medical marijuana prescriptions.
The doctor, Anthony Anzalone, was allegedly passing out pot scripts like cannabis was candy, and the state’s response was both swift and savage. In a place like New Jersey this kind of flagrant marijuana endorsement could not abide.
Anzalone is a trained gynecologist and obstetrician. He’s been in medicine for over two decades and he was one of the first doctors in New Jersey to register with the state’s medical marijuana program. He got into the game early on and he’s been working hard to make sure people in his state who need pot, have access to it.
Which earned him the nickname, Dr. Marijuana.
“I'm old fashioned. I don't use the product at all, myself,” says Anzalone, speaking fast in his heavy Jersey accent. “But I believed in what I was doing and I got a lot of people off their pain meds.”
He pioneered a technology called “telemedicine” wherein patients could apply for a quarterly “re-up” visit, virtually, without going through a full doctor’s appointment. Anzalone described it as a “godsend” because he was able to handle 90-95% of his patients through this system. It essentially streamlined his capacity to authorize pot prescriptions en masse.
And a lot of patients used it very frequently.
“The telemedicine system was between me, the patient and God. That's exactly the way it was,” says Anzalone. “And many doctors are using it now. So there was nothing wrong with it, they just singled me out because they needed a sacrificial lamb.”
The New Jersey state government wanted to make an example out of Anzalone, he claims. They saw how many people were getting cannabis prescriptions through his business and they decided to put a lid on it.
Anzalone’s medical license was suspended at the beginning of 2019.
Media outlets seized on the story. Many reporting that he was responsible for some 3,250 “indiscriminate” medical marijuana patient referrals. But according to the doctor, that’s a misleading way to frame it. Anzalone says that his office ran an internal audit just before the new year and counted only 1,050 authorizations since they had opened.
Regardless, whether it was 3,250 or 1,050, that’s a lot of cannabis prescriptions for one doctor to sling. And whether or not the state wants to admit it, that’s also really positive news for the people of New Jersey. With a natural, non-addictive alternative to opioids, many of Anzalone’s patients were able to manage their pain (and other health issues) without resorting to something far more dangerous and unhealthy.
Some, were even able to kick their opioid dependency completely by switching to cannabis.
“The state should be commending me not condemning me,” Anzalone says. “The people that should be before the state board are all the physicians that have been prescribing opiates for the last twenty-five years … I'm unraveling this mess and I've been doing a damn good job.”
That’s hard to argue with. Especially considering that, in New Jersey alone, just in 2016, the state wrote 4.9 million opioid prescriptions. The same year, there were 1,409 opioid-related deaths. Prescription pain killers are a BIG problem in the Garden State, and here you’ve got a doctor who is actively trying to subvert that issue by prescribing an organic alternative; a safe, comparatively healthy option that won’t get people addicted, that cannot cause overdose fatalities.
And the state suspends his license.
Why? Is it just because New Jersey lawmakers are staunchly anti-pot and hate stoners? Is it because they’re genuinely afraid of reefer madness infecting their pristine Jerseyan society?
Perhaps. But according to Anzalone, the motive here was not so innocent. As he describes it, his suspension really comes down to tax dollars and who gets paid.
He laid it out this way: New Jersey’s recreational cannabis tax is 10 percent. Comparatively, the medical marijuana tax is only 7 percent. By authorizing medical cannabis scripts to so many, the greedy state was missing out on that 3 percent difference and so they came down on him.
“You know, this is blood money, and this is the thing is what I was so angry about,” Anzalone says. “They're trying to trade health for money,”
That sounds about right for the state government of a place like New Jersey. But it could also be that the state didn’t like the idea of a gynecologist exploiting a loophole in their legislation and cashing in on the people’s hunger for legal, affordable pot. Anzalone seems like a smart dude — he had to of known that he was toeing the line between what was legal and what was not, and there was probably some kind of motivation for him to do that.
After all, the good doctor was charging $350 for initial visits, and then $100 per quarterly “re-up.” Some news sources reported that Anzalone likely made more than a million dollars in consultation fees alone.
But Anzalone laughed at that suggestion.
“It was not a multi-million-dollar operation,” he assures me. “I was doing this so my wife wouldn't have to be working. I sank most my money into the [telemedicine] technology and good staff.”
Meaning Dr. Marijuana was doing all that good work, authorizing medical marijuana prescriptions by the hundreds (perhaps even by the thousands) in the spirit of true compassion. He put his own neck on the line, risked his medical license to make sure that the people of New Jersey who needed marijuana, got it. Even if that meant writing everyone in the state a prescription.
We need more doctors like Anzalone. Because, hell, even if he is as bad as the state wants to make him out to be, even if he was in it for the money, even if he was flagrantly over-prescribing marijuana to any schmuck who walked in his door and re-upping any patient who logged into his telemedicine system, he’s still only prescribing marijuana.
It’s not like he’s out there slinging pills like every other doctor in the business.