A New Jersey physician who wrote thousands of recommendations for medical marijuana had his license suspended by the state Wednesday and was ordered to cease practicing medicine altogether by Feb. 8.
Anthony Anzalone, a former OB/GYN, was one of the first doctors to register with the Garden State’s medical marijuana program when it launched in 2012. He told a reporter for the Inquirer and Daily News that he viewed it as “a promising alternative medicine.” Because insurance does not cover cannabis, he initially charged $100 in cash for a visit and required three visits before he would issue a certification.
After rebranding himself as “Dr. Marijuana,” Anzalone grew his practice to became a multimillion-dollar enterprise with three North Jersey offices. He collected $350 from each patient for writing the equivalent of a cannabis prescription. At one point Anzalone had signed more patients up for the program than any other doctor.
State officials this week branded Anzalone as “unscrupulous,” accusing him of indiscriminately authorizing the drug for thousands of people who did not qualify for the program.
To increase revenues, Anzalone “routinely registered patients who would not qualify for [marijuana] because they lacked a debilitating condition as defined by regulations, or fabricated debilitating conditions to qualify them,” state officials said. Anzalone authorized so many patients that he often required hotel conference rooms to see them in large numbers.
Anzalone’s attorney said the doctor was not guilty of anything more than being “a trailblazer.”
“When you’re trying to be accessible and make it so patients can get the medicine they need, you’re going to do it in a different way,” said lawyer Jef Henninger “We’re confident that we’ll be able to get his license reinstated and he’ll be able to continue to treat patients.”
Henninger said a substitute doctor will take over Anzalone’s patient load so that no one will go without care. If the Garden State legalizes marijuana for recreational use, Henninger said, the case against Anzalone likely will be reconsidered.
Anzalone wrote recommendations for nearly 3,250 patients. About 2,100 of those patients remain active participants. Physicians registered with the program have an average of 45 patients in the medical program, state officials said.
In addition to the $350 initial consultation fee that he charged his patients -- whether they were qualified or not -- Anzalone required a $100 quarterly payment to remain qualified for the program.
The Division of Consumer Affairs opened an investigation into Anzalone following complaints against him filed with the state Department of Health. Similar complaints in Pennsylvania are handled by the state Department of State.
Two undercover investigators posed as patients and confirmed that Anzelone practiced "with little regard for patient privacy, and in a manner inconsistent with the bona fide physician-patient relationship requirement,” according to the complaint. Four former patients also made statements alleging Anzalone did not gather a comprehensive medical history or perform physical examinations as required by law before writing them recommendations for cannabis.
In a news release announcing the interim consent order, Paul R. Rodriguez, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said Anzalone "exploited his patients and the [marijuana program] for his own gain, completely disregarding the regulations meant to protect patients.
“By temporarily suspending Dr. Anzalone from practicing medicine, we are making it clear that we will not allow unscrupulous doctors to enrich themselves at the expense of the safety and welfare of their patients and the public.”