Florida Officials Go Undercover to Investigate Cannabis Doc

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A Florida physician is fighting the state after its Department of Health sent undercover agents to visit his medical cannabis clinic and documented questionable practices, according to reports and public records. Joseph Dorn, MD, who runs the Tallahassee-based Medical Marijuana Treatment Clinics of Florida, is the subject of a health department complaint alleging he falsified or exaggerated assessments, and failed to conduct substantial patient evaluations when the agents visited. His license may be at stake.

The Department of Health formally opened an investigation of Dorn in August 2019, the complaint noted. A hearing was held in September, according to a News Service of Florida report.

In the wake of that hearing, Dorn's lawyer, Ryan Andrews, JD, is ripping the health department, arguing that it may have violated federal law and attempted to defraud Dorn. Dorn is being targeted in part because he was the medical director for Surterra Wellness, one of the state's medical cannabis operators. State law bans doctors employed by these entities from ordering cannabis for treatment. Dorn has not been employed there since before the sting operation.

The sting is among the state's first major actions against doctors prescribing cannabis after this practice was legalized in Florida in 2016, according to the News Service.

Dorn has had an active Florida medical license since June 1994, with no disciplinary history, according to a state database; it expires Jan. 31, 2022. He earned a doctorate in medicine and dentistry from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, according to his bio on his site and state records.

A former medical director at Covenant Hospice and Hospice of Citrus County, as well as an assistant medical director at Big Bend Hospice, Dorn has dedicated himself to medical cannabis since 2016. "Providing care for terminally ill patients using prescription narcotics and other addicting traditional medications, which were often less effective with many side effects, caused me to consider alternative treatments," he wrote in his bio.

State inspectors did not find medical equipment at Dorn's office besides a stethoscope when they visited in June 2017, according to the complaint. He charged $299 per new patient appointment.

The second agent visited in April 2018, posing as a 36-year-old male and holding a 2008 record showing he suffered from PTSD symptoms. Dorn then documented these symptoms in a new record, and added symptoms that the man did not disclose.

Dorn did not conduct a physical examination, review controlled prescription drug history, or fully assess medical history for either man. He handed them cannabis certificates and prescribed them the plant.The state contends Dorn "failed to have adequate medical justification to support the diagnosis of PTSD" for both men.

Dorn "made deceptive, untrue or fraudulent representations in or related to the practice of medicine and/or applied a trick or scheme in the practice of medicine," the state argued.

The complaint was signed by Kristen Summers, the department's chief legal counsel, in May 2019.

The investigators lacked law enforcement powers, and state officials broke federal law by forging military documents and having an individual pretend to have conditions qualifying him for medical cannabis treatment, Andrews, Dorn's lawyer, told CBS Miami. The attorney also accused department officials of concocting a conspiracy to defraud Dorn by forging and falsifying federal documents.

"The DOH's unlawful actions in this investigation will have the effect of changing the way physicians order medical marijuana for patients, because now the Department of Health has put in a play that anybody who comes into your office could be coming in with federal medical records that we told our staff to forge. So now they have to be on guard," he said.

The state's Board of Medicine has joined the Department of Health as petitioners in the case, according to state records. The board was not named in the original complaint. The case has been assigned to Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins.

Florida has been targeting doctors who filled cannabis prescriptions for PTSD, veterans groups told Robert Beasley, JD, another lawyer for Dorn, last year, according to the News Service.

Andrews did not return a call for comment. The Department of Health declined to comment. MedPage Today could not obtain a copy of the September hearing transcript by press time.

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