A Broken Clock is Right Twice a Day: O’Reilly Factor Appearance of Dr. Frank Lucido
On Friday March 25, 2005, I was called by the producer of the “O’Reilly Factor” to be on the show the next Monday. I had never watched the show, but I knew about it and how O’Reilly worked, cutting guests’ microphones off if he didn’t want the audience to hear something.
I asked the producer why he wanted me on the show. “Well, we saw your website and knew you had good standards.” I knew it was likely to be a hit piece on some aspect of the medical cannabis movement, but I had to make a decision and decided to say yes.
I had three days to make a list of “talking points” or “sound bites” in case I got a word in “edgewise,” and polled a number of patient advocates by email for their favorites. By Monday, I had two pages of talking points to choose from. At the very top of the first page I made a note to myself, “Don’t get mad.” This note came in handy.
On Monday, the producer called me two hours before “live taping.” He informed me that they had sent a reporter to three medical cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles to buy cannabis. None would sell any cannabis without a physician recommendation (to their credit), but two of them gave him the address of a physician nearby. The reporter went in posing as a patient, paid two hundred and fifty dollars, spent fifteen minutes with the physician, was never examined and was given a medical cannabis recommendation. He then went back to a dispensary and was able to buy cannabis in accordance with California law.
The producer said Bill O’Reilly would want to know my reaction to this. I knew I would be in a position of choosing to seemingly agree with O’Reilly or to appear to support questionable practice.
A slightly edited transcript of the show follows…
Announcer: “In a moment, “Getting High in LA”. It’s never been easier! Now that Medical Marijuana is the law of the land. A Factor Investigation!”
Bill O’Reilly: When I was out in LA a few weeks ago, I was reading one of the weekly newspapers, which was full of medical marijuana ads. Many say you just walk in, see a doctor close by, and walk out with pot. Now California’s medical marijuana law allows people with legitimate pain to purchase pot, but I think the whole thing is a dodge, and I’ve said that…So we sent Fox news producer Chris Spinder to check out some of these medical marijuana clinics. Joining us now from Berkeley, California, is Dr. Frank Lucido, who writes medical marijuana recommendations, and from Santa Maria, California, Chris Spinder.
Bill O’Reilly begins talking with Chris Spinder…
BO: All right. We sent you into this clinic, and what did they say to you?
Chris Spinder: Well first to start, we went into three different cannabis clubs, and I attempted to buy the cannabis without the doctor’s recommendation, and all three of these clubs turned me away and said that without this recommendation in my hand, I couldn’t buy the cannabis. However two of the clubs gave me the business card of a doctor who they said would be able to give me the recommendation and I went to make an appointment. It turned out to be kind of a walk-in clinic and I waited in line for about an hour and a half, at which point, fifteen minutes with a doctor in his office, asked me a few general questions and name and address, and then he printed out a form letter…
BO: Well now, were you sick? I mean, were you like in pain? What was going on?
CS: We just had a general discussion about my medical condition.
BO: All right: did you have cancer, glaucoma, or any of that? Do you have any of that?
CS: I do not.
BO: So basically he didn’t even give you an exam.
CS: He did not examine me at all, no.
BO: Wow! Two hundred and fifty bucks. You walk out, you walk in back to the little pot clinics with this, and they sell you up to eight pounds you can buy in there, right?
CS: Actually up to eight ounces according to California law and most people usually buy between an eighth and a quarter of an ounce.
BO: All right. Now what did that cost you?
CS: Sixty-five dollars for this eighth of an ounce.
BO: So you’re in now for three hundred and fifteen dollars, which, you know, for an eighth of an ounce, is a lot of money, but, you did it legally and you can do it as many times as you want. They didn’t take the recommendation away from you, right?
CS: No, actually there’s no expiration date on this particular recommendation.
BO: All right, thank you, Chris. Doctor, come on. Doctor, come on!! This is legalized drug dealing! Go!
Frank Lucido: Well I don’t like to see poor quality medicine. What this sounds like to me is the worst stories I’ve heard of HMO’s. You wouldn’t believe how many patients come to me, when I require documentation. I say you need to talk to your doctor about your pain. They say,“Why should I talk to them about my pain? They’re just going to give me pills, they’re going to give me as many Vicodin as I want.” So I’m not saying this is good. But I’m just saying…
BO: But I’m saying this is what it is. It’s a ruse. It’s a dodge. It’s legalized marijuana in California.” Now a doctor like you, now if you write somebody one, you examine them, right?
FL: I do. I spend forty-five minutes with patients. I require documentation of diagnosis. I require they have a primary care doctor that they’re discussing their serious illness with every year. So my standards are, actually, onerous for some people, either if they don’t have enough money to have a primary care doctor, or don’t have faith in the medical system.
BO: This is a scam, it’s a con. Every doctor in California should be outraged! Are you?
FL: Yeah, I don’t like this. It’s really bad business practice as well as bad medicine.
BO: What are you going to do about it, doc?
FL: I’m going to talk to the Medical Board as I always have. What I’m going to challenge the Medical Board to do is start looking at the HMO’s with the same vision that they are looking at the medical cannabis doctors. They’ve examined twelve of the twenty most outspoken doctors. And I was one of those doctors, and the doctors that I know have high standards. This doesn’t sound very good, what you’re telling me. But this is a minority.
BO: This is a huge scam. All right, we’re gonna follow-up on this.
BO: Doc, I gotta run. But, we’re going to follow-up on this. And it is off the chart a scam.
(End of transcripts)
My O’Reilly “shoulda, woulda, coulda’s…”
Well, thank goodness for my “Don’t get mad” reminder! A shouting match with O’Reilly would have been unproductive.
Now I could have responded to, “What are you gonna do about it, doc?” with: “Bill, I would have to interview your producer or faux patient and find out exactly what he told the doctor. Do you think he lied to the doctor?”
“Bill, What’s your problem? Cannabis has been widely available to any recreational user since the 1960’s.”
But, hindsight is always 20-20, and as the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. O’Reilly had struck on a partial truth: In any group, there will be a certain minority of people whose standards lie on the low end of the bell-shaped curve. Whether that field be medicine, law enforcement, politics, business, journalism, or television show hosting. So too, there are a few embarrassingly “low-standards” physicians in the field of medical cannabis evaluation. And, I did get out my point that this is the minority of medical cannabis physicians.
Unfortunately, this minority is seeing an increasingly large number of patients. And, in fact, this was the beginning of my awareness of the increasing number of new physicians opening up medical cannabis clinics to make recommendations. This proliferation has also led to further lowering of standards in an attempt to capture greater “market share.”
This apparent “ease” of obtaining a recommendation without documentation of diagnosis (or even credible medical evaluation), has led to a backlash where many cities are imposing moratoria on the number of dispensaries available to sick patients. According to my late friend, Jane Weirick, who founded the Medical Cannabis Association in 2005 for the purpose of monitoring medical cannabis dispensary standards:
“Another current issue is the proliferation of “young, healthy looking” men appearing to be the predominant clients of patient centers (dispensaries). This has become a severe problem for all sides. Not only has the media taken great pains to display anyone not looking “sick enough” to meet their criteria, but the truly sick who look “too healthy” have been threatened and endangered… Reputable patient centers are aware of this and take great pains to make sure that they don’t destroy their own credibility by carefully evaluating and monitoring all of their patients. The problematic ones are more concerned with sales and profits, which are not the proper issues of concern in any case. Worse, the tendency of some cities to arbitrarily reduce the number of dispensaries and to consider imposing high fees on the remaining ones is actually contributing to the problem…”
We’ve all heard the phrase “man bites dog” to describe how the media will more likely report about an unusual event than an ordinary, everyday event. So it should come as no surprise that the real practice of medicine is boring to everyone except the doctor and the patient involved – and stories of “low-standard” doctors, dispensaries focused on profits and young, healthy appearing clients going to dispensaries will simply get reported more frequently by the media.
Frank H. Lucido MD