I-Team Investigation: Who Is Doc 420?

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I-Team Investigation: Who Is Doc 420?

Postby palmspringsbum » Sun Dec 16, 2007 6:52 pm

KGO TV - ABC News wrote:I-Team Investigation: Who Is Doc 420?

by Dan Noyes, KGO TV - ABC News
November 1st, 2007

California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996. It was meant for patients with serious illnesses, such as AIDS, cancer or glaucoma. However, there are new questions whether medical marijuana is too easily available, especially for people who aren't even sick.

To get medical marijuana, you need a doctor's note stating that you have a serious condition. One young doctor from Hollywood is making a very good living at it with patients up and down the coast.

Chances are you've never met a doctor like Sona Patel. She's the cover girl for medical marijuana. We first interviewed her at a medical marijuana convention in Los Angeles.

"I've always believed in the medicinal effects of marijuana," says Patel, a medical marijuana doctor.

Six months ago, she started calling herself Doc 420 -- 420 is the street slang for smoking marijuana.

"That's just kind of a bit of a fluke, just kind of happened that that phone number was available and the Web site was available. So, I became Doc 420," says Patel.

Yes, she has a toll-free number, a Doc 420 Web site and a MySpace page with a picture.

Dan Noyes: "What did you hope to accomplish with this image?"

Sona Patel: "Well, you know what, it was just something that a marketing team had come up with for me."

Doc 420 says the high heels and hot pants have paid off, attracting many new patients.

"Tons of people were just coming in just to see 'if this is really you, but I guess we'll stay now,' and that kind of stuff," explains Patel.

Business is going so well, the 31-year-old doctor has opened several offices -- her original clinic in Hollywood, one in San Diego, and now, in San Francisco's Lower Haight. Most of the people in this neighborhood support medical marijuana and tolerate the dispensaries here. However, Doc 420 and her sister handing out fliers on Haight Street got a mixed reaction.

"It was pretty hilarious. She's pretty hot," says Simon Butler, a resident of Lower Haight.

"I think that's sort of pretty clear from that picture that she's not necessarily going for the very sick people, but going for people who may be looking for a good time who want to find easy access to marijuana," says Thea Selby, a resident of Lower Haight.

So, we wanted to find out, is Doc 420 following state law when she prescribes marijuana?

Two I-Team producers waited for her cab to arrive from the airport one recent Monday and struck up a conversation.

I-Team Producer #1: "I've seen you before."

Doc 420: "You have?"

I-Team Producer #1: "You're Doc 420."

Doc 420: "Yes, I am."

I-Team Producer #1: "Is it hard to like get a card?"

Doc 420: "No, it's really easy."

I-Team Producer #1: "What do you do?"

Doc 420: "Well, I do an evaluation which is free."

Dr. Patel explained if they passed the evaluation, her recommendation would cost $100. That would allow them to buy pot from a dispensary. She could see our two producers right away.

I-Team Producer #1: "What if you don't have a condition?"

Doc 420: "Well, most likely, people are using it for something whether you... really realize it or not, if it's helping you sleep or calming your stress or there are so many different reasons that still qualify you. You may not even realize it."

I-Team Producer #2: "It could be something like just I can't sleep or whatever?"

Doc 420: "Yeah, exactly, and I have a lot of people like that, too."

Our producers went to the ATM, returned with cash, and after a few minutes emerged with a three-month recommendation for medical marijuana.

Dan Noyes: "Oh, you've been diagnosed with a serious medical condition."

But Dr. Patel didn't really diagnose our producer. She told him what would qualify him for medical marijuana with a series of leading questions.

"Then she said, 'so you've been having trouble sleeping for a long time, you've been self-medicating for a long time and this is an on-going problem, is that correct?'" says one of our I-Team producers.

"I said, 'I guess I have a problem sleeping,' and she said, 'fine,'" says another producer.

Dan Noyes: "He says that you brought up sleep, that he didn't bring up sleep, that you brought up sleep."

Doc 420: "Uh-huh."

Dan Noyes: "Were you giving him ideas as to what to say?"

Doc 420: "No, I may have mentioned it, you know, just as these are -- other patients have had these kind of complaints before."

"The physician actually should be asking questions of the patient to find out what their ailment is. They shouldn't be leading the patient," says Kimberly Kirchmeyer, deputy director for the Medical Board of California.

The deputy director of the state medical board would not comment directly on Doc 420, but she showed us the six steps posted on the board's Web site that a doctor must follow before signing off on medical marijuana for any patient. It starts with a hands-on examination, including the taking of vital signs.

Dan Noyes: "Was there any examination at all?"

I-Team Producer #1: "No."

Dan Noyes: "Did she develop a treatment plan with objectives?"

I-Team Producer #1: "No."

Dan Noyes: "Did she discuss the side effects of pot with you?"

I-Team Producer #1: "No."


Doc 420: "I list the side effects really clearly in the consent that they have to sign to get to qualify."

Dan Noyes: "It says discussion, though. Discussion doesn't mean pieces of paper, does it?"


Dan Noyes: "Is it enough for a doctor just to give you a piece of paper with the listing of the side effects on it, or should there be a conversation?"

Kimberly Kirchmeyer: "There should be a conversation, they should go over those side effects to make sure the patient understands what those side effects could be and how to visually see them if they're having them occur on the patient."

Kimberly Kirchmeyer says at least six doctors have lost their licenses recently for similar failures and medical board investigators are now looking into Doc 420.

The case also concerns proponents of medical marijuana, including San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

Dan Noyes: "This has to be frustrating for you."

Supervisor Mirkarimi: "It's extraordinarily frustrating because it undermines everything that we've tried to do."

Mirkarimi says medical marijuana should be reserved for patients with real medical conditions, and he's concerned about the damage Doc 420 could do to the movement.

Supervisor Mirkarimi: "Clearly, I think the motivation is about profiteering and that's where it degrades the law and I abhor this kind of conduct."

Dan Noyes: "I think that people are going to be surprised that they can walk into an office, your office, and say, 'I can't sleep' and you'll give them a recommendation for marijuana, it's that easy."

Doc 420: "Uh-huh. Well, I mean, technically speaking, yes, that's what it comes down to, but there is paperwork and talking in between."

The medical board says there has to be proof of a long-standing, serious problem including documentation from the patient's treating physician. Dr. Patel says she sees 20 to 30 patients a day, and that she works seven days a week at her various offices. It's clearly a lucrative career.

For more on this story, read my blog on Doc 420 with all the links for this story, in which I explore what the pot clubs are doing to the Lower Haight and tell you how the expression 420 came about.

>> BLOG: Doc 420, The Medical Marijuana Doctor
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