CHICAGO - A physician accused of violating Illinois' medical marijuana law could lose his license in a case that critics say highlights the state's strict enforcement of the pilot program and that his patients worry could hurt their ability to buy cannabis.
Illinois regulators say Dr. Bodo Schneider charged patients for pot recommendations at offices in southern Illinois and suburban Chicago without a legitimate doctor-patient relationship. At a preliminary hearing Tuesday in Chicago, attorneys said they're negotiating a possible settlement, which is standard in such cases.
Schneider approved marijuana for hundreds of patients in the state's program, for which legal sales began just last month. Patients must have a doctor's signature to qualify for a required ID card.
"He had two waiting rooms and they were full every time I went. You waited a long time," patient David Kurfman told The Associated Press. Kurfman traveled 500 miles round-trip from Rushville to Schneider's Marion clinic and paid $185 for three visits, which included at least one physical exam, he said.
Kurfman said he couldn't find a doctor in central Illinois who would recommend marijuana, which he uses to control seizures from epilepsy.
"I hope the charges are dropped against him. The best thing for me is for more doctors to get on board and do recommendations," Kurfman said.
Kurfman and other patients fret the state might revoke their patient cards if Schneider is punished, or that they may need to find new doctors.
Patient cards are valid for a year, Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. "The qualifying patient would need a new physician certification at the time of renewal" if a certifying physician were no longer licensed, she added. Enforcement practices vary in the 23 states that have medical cannabis. Illinois' scrutiny of doctors is among the toughest. Schneider is at least the fourth Illinois physician to face discipline over marijuana recommendations.
But it's not the first time Schneider's been in trouble. A former emergency room doctor, he was reprimanded in 2000 for failing to properly treat a diabetic patient. Florida revoked his license in 2005 for failure to report the Illinois discipline and pay a fine, which prompted Virginia to suspend his license. His attorney, Luke Baumstark, told The Associated Press that Schneider misunderstood how the reprimand could affect his status in other states.
"At that time, he was not 100 percent clear what the consequences of reprimand would be," Baumstark said.
Schneider's next hearing is Feb. 5.
By Carla K. Johnson - AP/Dec. 1, 2015
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