The New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners temporarily suspended the license of a physician participating in the state’s medicinal marijuana program amid allegations that he created a multi-million dollar enterprise by indiscriminately authorizing marijuana use for thousands of patients he met in hotel conference centers across the state.
Dr. Anthony Anzalone, 66, who has been a registered participant in the state’s medical marijuana program since 2012, must wind down his medical practice within the next 30 days and cease practicing medicine altogether on Feb. 8 under the terms of an interim consent order he entered with the board on Wednesday. His license will remain temporarily suspended until the allegations against him are resolved. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs announced the suspension today.
“State legislatures may relax their laws against marijuana, and many already have, but there are limits to what state law allows, and the public should know that we vigorously enforce those limits to protect public safety and prevent unlawful distribution,” Grewal said. “We allege that Dr. Anzalone failed to adhere to even the most fundamental rules of New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program, a program carefully regulated to meet the public’s need for compassionate treatment alternatives while preventing unlawful marijuana distribution and use. We expect physicians to abide by the rules and regulations of their profession, no matter what kind of medicine they are practicing.”
In a complaint filed with the board, the State alleges that Anzalone, who advertises as “NJGreenMD,” engaged in fraud, gross negligence, and professional misconduct by indiscriminately authorizing medicinal marijuana to large groups of people who attended conferences he held in hotels around the state, charging each an initial consultation fee of $350 and subsequently charging each quarterly fees of $100 for continued authorization of the drug.
The state alleges that Anzalone’s marijuana practice was impersonal and detached from any effort to individualize care. At the hotel conferences he held, Anzalone allegedly discussed medicinal marijuana generally with the group and then relied on his staff, who were not trained in the field of medicine, to register these individuals in the state’s medical marijuana program with 90-day supplies of the drug, to instruct the patients on use and storage of the drug, and to obtain the initial consultation fee, typically paid in cash.
In order to expand his patient base and increase his revenues, Dr. Anzalone allegedly routinely registered patients who would not qualify for the medical marijuana program because they lacked a debilitating condition as defined by regulations, or fabricated debilitating conditions to qualify them, the State alleges.
Since registering for the program, Anzalone has authorized nearly 3,250 patients for medicinal marijuana, according to state officials. He currently has about 2,077 active patients, while most of the physicians registered with the medical marijuana program have an average of 45 patients, according to the complaint.
“We allege that Dr. Anzalone exploited his patients and the medical marijuana program for his own gain, completely disregarding the regulations meant to protect patients and promote the efficacious use of medicinal marijuana,” said Paul Rodríguez, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “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.”
The New Jersey Department of Health, which administers the state’s medical marijuana program, will provide assistance to patients affected by Anzalone’s temporary suspension.
“The Department of Health’s Medicinal Marijuana Program will assist patients who need help transitioning to a new physician,” said Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal.
The Medicinal Marijuana Program was established under New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, a law that offers legal protection to individuals who are seriously ill and require marijuana as an alternative treatment for certain, defined, qualifying conditions.
Under state regulations, physicians are required to register with the New Jersey Department of Health to participate in the medical marijuana program. Participating physicians must have an active New Jersey medical license issued by the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners, an active controlled dangerous substance registration, and a bona fide relationship with participating patients, officials said. Participating physicians are authorized to certify patients with certain medical conditions to receive marijuana at one of the six dispensaries permitted by the medical marijuana program. Currently, 865 doctors participate in the program.
Anzalone, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology, was among the first doctors to register for the medical marijuana program and has since limited his practice to the medical marijuana program, officials said.
The enforcement bureau of the Division of Consumer Affairs opened an investigation into Anzalone and his practice based on a referral from the New Jersey Department of Health following the medical marijuana program’s receipt of numerous consumer complaints against him.
Thes state alleges that undercover investigators posing as patients seeking medicinal marijuana, as well as several actual patients who had made complaints about Anzalone, confirmed that the doctor “practices with little regard for patient privacy, and in a manner inconsistent with the bona fide physician-patient relationship requirement,” according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, Anzalone failed to comply with medical marijuana program regulations in his treatment of four actual patients and two undercover investigators posing as patients by, among other things:
- providing a certification and written instructions to a patient for the medical use of marijuana with whom he does not maintain a bona fide physician-patient relationship;
- failing to perform a comprehensive medical history and physical examination of the patient to determine if that patient suffers from a debilitating medical condition qualifying him or her to receive medicinal marijuana;
- failing to assess the patient’s qualifying condition at least every three months; and
- failing to keep accurate and complete records pertaining to his medical marijuana treatment.
Under the terms of the interim consent order, Anzalone is prohibited from registering new patients into the medical marijuana program or beginning any new treatment in any specialty of medicine, including obstetrics and gynecology, during the 30-day wind down period.
During the wind-down, he may provide only one 30-day medicinal marijuana renewal to existing patients who are due for renewals within the wind-down period, and only after he conducts an in-person, private physical examination of the patient to ensure that the medicinal marijuana renewal is medically necessary and appropriate for the patient’s medical marijuana program qualifying debilitating condition. He also must create records, according to medical marijuana program regulations, documenting these encounters, and including findings that support his decision to renew medicinal marijuana. Anzalone is prohibited from increasing fees for these consultations beyond his customary $100 charge.
During the wind-down period, he also must cooperate with the New Jersey Department of Health in transitioning patients who wish to continue medical marijuana program care to other registered physicians. He must also inform his patients that he is temporarily barred from the medical marijuana program.
Patients who believe that they have been treated by a licensed health care professional in an inappropriate manner can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.