Did Anthony “Dr. Marijuana” Anzalone overextend himself by authorizing over 3,000 patients for New Jersey’s burgeoning medical marijuana program? State authorities seem to think so — and have underlined their views by putting a freeze on Anzalone’s license while an investigation looks into his practice.
“By temporarily suspending 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,” New Jersey attorney general Gurbir Grewal told the press.
Anzalone’s attorney Jef Henninger says that the doctor maintains his innocence in the face of the charges.
“Dr. Anzalone is a very popular doctor that takes great care of his patients,” Henninger told NJ Advance Media. “He is a trailblazer in this industry. Dr. Anzalone maintains his innocence and looks forward to having his license reinstated at the conclusion of this matter.”
The physician, who was trained as an obstetrician and began his practice as a Rutherford-based specialist on preventative care for women, has gone on record about his frustration with having to prescribe conventional pain medication.
In 2013, a profile on Anzalone by local news site NJ Spotlight quoted the doctor’s response to queries about his cannabis advocacy and whether he was “worried” about side effects.
“They said, ‘Aren’t you afraid?,’”Anzalone recounts. “‘No. Afraid of what? I’m more afraid of dispensing opiates.’”
Undercover investigators pretended to be patients to examine Anzalone’s passion for connecting people to medical marijuana. They found Dr. Anzalone meeting clients in rented hotel ballrooms, giving 3,250 patients access to cannabis over the course of four years. Each paid $350 for their initial consultation and $100 for quarterly renewals of their doctor’s recommendation. The investigation concluded the doctor probably made more than $1 million off of these fees.
New Jersey has made real progress on access to cannabis in recent years. Last summer, Grewal put a freeze on all cannabis court cases until the fall, when the state’s Senate and Congress voted to legalize recreational cannabis for adults. NJ.com reports that since pro-pot Governor Phil Murphy stepped into office last year (and expanded the program’s list of qualifying conditions) the number of registered adult medical cannabis users has doubled to 40,000.
But doctors have not been quick to jump on the green train. 900 of the state’s 28,000 registered MDs have signed up for the medical marijuana program. Over 50 towns have passed laws restricting, banning, or opposing cannabis industry operations and adult-use legalization.
Anzalone, in contrast, was an early adapter to medical cannabis, having signed up to become a cannabis gateway physician back in 2012. His passion for the program is evident, but authorities are saying he acted irresponsibly.
“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,” announced Grewal. “We expect physicians to abide by the rules and regulations of their profession, no matter what kind of medicine they are practicing.”