Feature Archive

Mary Jane Medicine

What happens when medicine and regulations clash.

WebMD Feature

You might say it was like a bad trip. One morning in 1997, family physician Robert Mastroianni arrived early at his office in tiny Pollock Pines, California, to find two agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration waiting for him. After a brief introduction, they began firing questions: Where had Mastroianni gone to school? Where had he done his medical training? One of the agents then handed the doctor a copy of a letter he had written recommending marijuana for a patient. Had Mastroianni actually prescribed pot, the agent asked, or had he only suggested it? Did he sell marijuana to his patients? Was he aware that marijuana was a deadly drug for which there was absolutely no medical use?

Mastroianni was stunned, then angered. He refused to answer further questions without a lawyer present. "Many of the agents' questions were professionally insulting," he wrote later. Worse, they revealed "a primitive and largely inaccurate understanding of medical practice." The agents requested Mastroianni's DEA number, a code that doctors must use when they prescribe any controlled substance. He complied, and the agents left -- but not before sending a chilling message to Mastroianni, and, when news reports about the drug agents' visit got out, to thousands of doctors nationwide.

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