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Medical board clears physician of charges in medical marijuana investigation


The proceedings against Dr. Joseph Dorn, who was one of the first Florida doctors eligible to order medical marijuana for patients, have been closely watched in the state’s medical cannabis community.

A state medical board has cleared a doctor who ordered medical marijuana for two undercover investigators posing as patients, finding the Florida Department of Health failed to prove wrongdoing.

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

Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins twice found that Dorn had complied with state law and recommended that the health department drop the charges against the 69-year-old doctor.

State health officials instead asked the Florida Board of Medicine to impose sanctions on the doctor, who is affiliated with the Medical Marijuana Treatment Clinics of Florida, by approving numerous exceptions to Watkins’ rulings, which were recommended orders under administrative law.

But at a Dec. 2 meeting, the Board of Medicine rejected each of the agency’s requests and dismissed the case.

The proceedings against the Tallahassee-area doctor, who was one of the first physicians in Florida to become eligible to order medical marijuana for patients, have been closely watched in the state’s medical cannabis community.

“I do feel a little vindicated, but then on the other hand, I’ve suffered professionally,” Dorn told The News Service of Florida in a phone interview.

The physician said that, with his career at stake, he had “a lot of sleepless nights” in the five years since the health department launched its probe.

“At my age, I could have retired by now, and I probably would have retired if it weren’t for this case, but I was determined not to because it not only impacts me, it impacts all of MMTC. It impacts every physician,” Dorn said.

Ryan Andrews, an attorney who represents Dorn, said the Department of Health’s actions “have hurt Dr. Dorn tremendously” and the physician intends to seek attorney fees and other damages.

“Basically, they ruined Dorn’s reputation and that of his business,” Andrews told the News Service.

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.”

During a visit with Dorn in 2018, investigator Ben Lanier, who posed as O.G., handed the physician a handwritten medical record saying that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by the military a decade earlier.

Lanier, who was one of the state’s witnesses during an October hearing before Watkins, said he told Dorn he had anxiety after serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where the doctor’s son had served in the military. Lanier testified that he had never served in the military or been to Afghanistan.

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.

Addressing the Board of Medicine at the Dec. 2 meeting, Kristen Summers, an attorney for the Department of Health, argued that Dorn should be punished for employing a “trick or scheme” in the practice of medicine.

“The department has alleged that MMTC of Florida deliberately structured itself to facilitate the distribution of marijuana to individuals in the state of Florida, regardless of whether the consumer qualified to receive medical marijuana pursuant to the statutory definition,” Summers told the board.

While Dorn was accused of failing to perform physical examinations, Andrews argued during the October hearing that Dorn conducted a “visual examination” of the undercover investigators and that nothing in the law requires a hands-on evaluation.

Watkins agreed, finding that observing and meeting a patient and reviewing medical records and patient-intake forms constituted a physical examination.

Summers, however, urged the board to scrap the judge’s interpretation of the law.

“It is the department’s position that looking at a patient is not a physical examination,” she argued. “We’re not looking to see what is inappropriate or inadequate or a complete physical examination. This is a binary issue.”

But the Board of Medicine, which regulates physicians, adopted Watkins’ “conclusions of law.”

Before the dismissal of the charges, Andrews said health officials examined records of more than two dozen of Dorn’s patients and found no evidence that the Tallahassee-based doctor had “done anything wrong or violative of the statute.”

Andrews also blasted health officials for creating fake records for the undercover agents .

“They could not find one complaint, one issue wrong, with any real patient,” he told the Board of Medicine. “They’re asking you to indict his entire practice based off two people that came in and lied about conditions.”

Andrews also argued that a five-year suspension of Dorn’s license would amount to a permanent revocation, as the physician’s health has deteriorated in the years since the investigation began.

According to Andrews, Dorn’s patient load “went down significantly” after the charges were filed against him. Walmart also told Dorn its pharmacy would not accept prescriptions written by the physician.

The 2019 complaint against Dorn was filed on the same day the health department filed a complaint against Gainesville-area doctor Justin Davis, who also was visited by an undercover investigator. An administrative law judge also found Davis did not commit wrongdoing.

“I have always had faith in the judgment of the Board of Medicine because these are practicing physicians and they see it from a physician point of view and, after all that testimony, I totally don’t see how they could have reacted any other way,” Dorn told the News Service.