How Colorado’s Legalization of Marijuana Impacts Physicians

In the 2012 election, Colorado’s voters approved a new constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for recreational use. This comes five years after Colorado’s legalization of medical marijuana in 2007. In the wake of these laws, the question arises as to how the Colorado Medical Board will treat marijuana use by physicians. The short answer is that the Board will view marijuana use exactly the same as it did before it was legal.

Typically, the Medical Board only becomes aware of a doctor’s use of drugs or alcohol in the context of a complaint for another reason (i.e., a DUI, report of impairment at work, or as the result of a self-report). Like alcohol and other drugs, the Colorado Medical Board has always viewed physician use of marijuana as improper and typically results in the Board ordering physicians to CPHP for an evaluation to determine if the doctor has a substance abuse problem that warrants discipline and oversight. This approach is also echoed by other boards, such as nursing or dentistry, where a referral to Peer Assistance Services is a foregone conclusion where provider drug use is involved. Legalization for medical use did not change this view, and legalization for recreational use will likely not change that view either. Essentially, the legality of a drug is irrelevant to the Colorado Medical Board’s analysis because the Medical Board’s focus is on physician impairment and patient safety. Medscape Today published an interesting article recently that discussed the issue of physician marijuana use and impairment with CPHP’s Medical Director, Doris Gundersen, M.D. The article can be found HERE. (Free login required).  Although Dr. Gundersen does not work for or represent the Medical Board, her statements are consistent with the Medical Board’s view that legality is irrelevant. For example, physicians with prescription pain dependence or addiction (or alcohol impairment) are not exempted from discipline or oversight because the medication is legal and/or prescribed.

Doctors and other health care providers who choose to use either medical or recreational marijuana (or any other drug), should be aware that such use could place the physician’s license in jeopardy. The excuse that “it’s legal” will not be a defense to marijuana use in the eyes of the Medical Board.

Copyright Miller | Kabler, P.C., Attorneys-at-Law