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Administrative law judge sides with marijuana doctor accused in an undercover sting

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The state says Joseph Dorn did not conduct a physical exam of two patients and employed a "trick or scheme." The judge recommends dismissing the complaint.

A Tallahassee doctor who ordered medical marijuana for two undercover investigators posing as patients didn’t do anything wrong, an administrative law judge decided Wednesday.

The Florida Department of Health sought to strip physician Joseph Dorn of his medical license for five years, permanently ban him from ordering medical marijuana for patients and impose a $10,000 fine.

The proposed penalties against Dorn — who has practiced in Florida for more than three decades – stemmed from a 2019 complaint alleging that the physician violated state law by failing to conduct physical examinations of “Patient O.G.” and “Patient B.D.” The complaint also accused Dorn of employing a “trick or scheme” in the practice of medicine.

But Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins on Wednesday issued an order recommending that the complaint against the doctor be dismissed, saying that health officials “failed to present competent substantial evidence in this case establishing … that Dr. Dorn acted, or failed to act, in any manner to defraud or trick any patient, or that any patient was actually defrauded or tricked.”

Health officials accused Dorn of failing to “appropriately vet his patients” and follow a 2017 law requiring physicians to use certain procedures before determining patients are eligible for medical marijuana, such as deciding that its use would outweigh potential health risks.

“Instead of recognizing this responsibility, respondent (Dorn) used his designation as a qualified physician to liberally qualify patients to receive medical marijuana by only performing perfunctory consultations and ignoring many of the requirements imposed by the Legislature,” the agency’s lawyers wrote in a document filed last month.

But Watkins rejected those arguments, finding that the Department of Health’s allegations were not supported by the evidence in the case.

“The evidence of record undermines DOH’s argument that Dr. Dorn’s practice is nothing more than an ‘open gate’ to medical marijuana. In the case of both O.G. and B.D. (and presumably the other 28 patients examined), Dr. Dorn conducted a detailed and thorough assessment of the patient’s condition prior to prescribing medical marijuana,” Watkins wrote, referring to records of 28 actual patients that health officials reviewed. “Furthermore, the preponderance of the competent substantial evidence in this case demonstrates that Dr. Dorn performed a meaningful review of O.G. and B.D.’s medical history and symptoms, identified and discussed their qualifying stressors, and noted the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms being experienced by each.”

Under administrative law, Watkins’ recommended order will go to the Department of Health for final action.

The 2017 law, aimed at carrying out a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana, requires doctors to undergo training to be qualified by the state to order cannabis for patients and lays out requirements for physicians before certifying that patients are eligible for the treatment. The law also makes it a crime for patients to lie to doctors about their conditions to obtain marijuana.

The complaint against Dorn centered on visits by investigators Brent Johnson, who posed as “Patient B.D.,” and Ben Lanier, who posed as “Patient O.G.”

In November 2017, Johnson told the physician he had anxiety, difficulty sleeping, cold sweats, back pain and leg cramps following a car accident eight years earlier. According to the complaint, Dorn also entered other symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder in B.D.’s patient record and approved him for medical marijuana.

During a visit with Dorn five months later, Lanier presented a handwritten medical record saying that O.G had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by the military a decade earlier.

Lanier, who was one of the state’s witnesses during the October hearing, said he told Dorn he had anxiety after serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where the doctor’s son had served in the military.

In a prepared statement on Wednesday, Dorn’s attorney, Ryan Andrews, accused the state of “inflicting crippling stress and pain” on the doctor as he continued to treat patients following the investigation. Andrews threatened to take legal action against the health department and officials involved in the complaint against his client.

“This action didn't sound in good faith and now it's our turn to seek justice and right this wrong against everyone involved. This entire action against Dr. Dorn is an embarrassment and disservice to the state of Florida. Dr. Dorn is excited to continue treating patients without these baseless and harmful accusations hanging over his head," Andrews said.