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Doctor busted smoking pot with 'patients'

October 21, 2009 1:48:17 PM PDT
In an Eyewitness News exclusive, a Southern California physician with a very unique specialty displays some questionable medical ethics. Dr. Armond Tollette abandoned traditional medical practice to focus on medical marijuana. California law allows physicians to recommend marijuana for seriously ill patients. But Dr. Tollette recommended marijuana to just about anyone, as long as the price was right. And sometimes he'd smoke it with them too.

A confidential informant met with Tollette at his office in Culver City.

"Does it always make you cough like this?" asks the informant as he and the doctor smoke marijuana together.

"[Coughing] Whew. That's Kush stuff," says Tollette. "That's OG Kush. Whew, that's some great potent herb."

Tollette thinks the informant is a new patient.

Tollette was running his marijuana-focused medical practice out of his mother's town home in Culver City.

"Yeah, this is all hocus-pocus, man," says Tollette. "This [stuff] ... it's just good to be in California. Yeah. We could be in Oklahoma."

Good to be in California, because Proposition 215, which legalized the use of medical marijuana in California, specifically states: "No physician in this state should be punished, or denied any right or privilege, for having recommended marijuana to a patient for medical purposes."

But under federal law, it's illegal to recommend marijuana to anyone, for any purpose.

Tollette's new "patient" is, in fact, a confidential informant working with law enforcement.

"You think ... I'm an ER doctor, man," says Tollette. "I've been on the ER front line for 20 years, you know. It doesn't take that long."

The laws may be vague, but guidelines from the California Medical Board are very clear.

"The first step is to take a history and a physical examination of the patient and that is to confirm the diagnosis," said Candis Cohen, spokesperson for the Medical Board of California.

"It's not that complicated, you know what I'm saying?" says Tollette. "Because the bottom line is you qualified for this [stuff] a long time ago."

The medical board also requires doctors to "consult with the patient's primary treating physician" or "obtain records to confirm the diagnosis and prior treatment history." Tollette did neither.

"You're now a legal patient in the state of California. And that would be $150," says Tollette.

"They're using it as a cash-making business and when we catch them doing that, we discipline them," said Cohen.

It's estimated nearly 400,000 Californians now have doctor-issued medical marijuana recommendations.

Along the boardwalk in Venice Beach, some doctors employ what are known as "Cappers." Doctors pay them to round up patients.

"Three months is $75," says one capper. "Look in my eyes -- nine months is $100. And one year is $120. And we have shops right around the corner I can take you to."

An Eyewitness News producer walked into on "open air" medical office and asked if she had to have a real medical condition.

"And what do I have to have?" asks the producer.

"It's so easy. You'll get it," says one waiting patient.

"If somebody has a good case where they just hand out cards without any medical diagnosis, we'll go after them," said Jerry Brown, Calif. attorney general.

"It's possible you might be able to show me how to -- the best way to smoke it, or," says the confidential informant back at Tollette's office.

"In fact, I'm going to just take a little time, you don't even have to kiss my ass, because you come all ... I'm going to just show ... I'm going to give you one little bag of vapor right quick, is that OK?," says Tollette.

"All right," says the informant.

Tollette shows the informant how to vaporize the marijuana instead of smoking it.

"The herb is going to be in here. It's going to be mixing around," says Tollette. "Hot air, we're going to catch it."

"So it's just vaporizing?" says the informant.

"It's just vaporizing," says Tollette. "You don't burn it. You heat it up, but you don't burn it, so you're heating all the good stuff, but you're not creating all the poison that you do when you burn something."

"Maybe he was giving samples away to his clients just as normal doctors give away sleeping pills and Xanax to their clients," said attorney William Kroger.

Eyewitness News asked Kroger, Tollette's defense attorney, if Tollette's behavior is proper patient protocol.

"Dr. Tollette is a very spiritual man and if he believed someone could be helped by using medical marijuana. He might just say let's try this and see if it helps you. And so he would try it with his patients," said Kroger.

"This is a very important precision instrument [holding vaporizer bag]. It gives you the right temperature. If you go too high or too low you don't get the same vibe, you know. If you get the exact range, it's a lot better. You know?" says Tollette.

"[Coughing] Oh man," says the informant. "So the same time next year?"

"[Coughing] Yes, sir," says Tollette.

"Well, I'll be back like clockwork," says the informant.

Tollette is no longer a doctor. He's now in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges related to that marijuana, along with a separate case of Medicare fraud.

Tollette declined a request from Eyewitness News for an interview.


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