Doc uses marijuana to grow practice exponentially

While laws remain in flux in several states, in Maine, where voters approved medical marijuana dispensaries in 2009, the Department of Health and Human Services last week issued 163 state identification cards--and received another 174 (and counting) applications from patients wanting to register with the state before the Jan. 1 deadline, the Portland Press Herald reports.

To receive the law's protection from prosecution for possessing the drug, applicants must submit a doctor's certification and a $100 fee to get a state-issued identification card, which they need to buy marijuana from the soon-to-open dispensaries. In order to receive a recommendation for marijuana, those patients must have medical records documenting intractable pain that hasn't responded to ordinary medical or surgical measures for more than six months.

While applicants so far have received certification from a higher-than-expected number of different doctors--56 at last count--most of the medical marijuana business in Maine comes from just two doctors, and their business is booming. In the lead is Dr. Dustin Sulak, an osteopathic physician who's been licensed for just over a year.

Last fall, Sulak had 30 patients. Now, with a two-month wait for new patients, he treats 1,300--who must all pay in full before being scheduled. Sulak, who doesn't accept insurance, told the newspaper that 10 percent of his patients are on a sliding payment scale, with a maximum discount of 50 percent. His fee for an initial visit is $300.

While Sulak is certified to provide many forms of alternative therapy, including Reiki and hypnotherapy, almost all of his patients come to him seeking recommendations for marijuana, of which he estimates he's written 100 every week for the past two months.

"I'm using marijuana as the hook to connect people to a better method of medicine, and it's working," he said.

Sulak also told the newspaper that he almost expects to be questioned by the state's Board of Licensure in Osteopathy at some point, and therefore keeps meticulous records to back up his recommendations. The physician said he does turn down patients who he believes benefit from the drug but don't qualify under the law. Most suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, Sulak said.

To learn more:
- read the article in the Portland Press Herald
- see the state's website explaining its medical marijuana law