Medical Board Of California - Dr Benzor "Good Physician Barred From Practicing Medicine"

—40— O’Shaughnessy’s • Winter/Spring 2013

It’s been tough at times, juggling medicine

and motherhood. I never wanted children

until I hit 30. Then I wanted four of

them. I had four kids in seven years while

being in solo practice that didn’t include

inpatient care, didn’t take any managed

care patients, and was literally five minutes

from home. I was sole proprietor/owner of

Family Medical Clinic of Perris, a small

city in Riverside County. Those were busy

but wonderful years.

After a divorce and the sale of my practice,

I found myself working 10 hour days,

five or six days a week. My kids’ grades

started to slip and my second oldest started

behaving badly in school and at home.

In November of 2005 I saw a posting on

Craigslist for a “420 Friendly Physician

Assistant.” I replied and tried to convince

them that hiring an MD would be to their


I was the first doctor hired by Jean Talleyrand,

MD, the owner of MediCann, a

chain comprised at the time of eight clinics

throughout California. MediCann had

previously employed physician assistants

(PAs) to see patients. Talleyrand reviewed

and signed off on the diagnoses and letters

of approval and saw patients himself

in Oakland, Ukiah, Santa Cruz, and, occasionally,

in Southern California.

Since the law allows a physician to supervise

no more than four PAs at any moment

in time, my hiring allowed MediCann

clinics to see more patients on more days

than before. Talleyrand occasionally joked

that his goal was to become “the McDonalds

of Medical Marijuana Clinics.”

Working for MediCann allowed me to

work only three or four days a week and

to concentrate on parenting again. For the

first five or six months I saw patients in the

Los Angeles, Long Beach, and San Diego

Offices. Typically, each location held clinic

one day a week.

It was a good job: great hours (usually

four p.m. to eight p.m. on weekdays, noon

to five p.m. on the weekends), good pay

($100 per hour), full medical and dental

insurance for myself and my family, 401K

with matching contributions, reimbursement

for travel to and from each clinic, and

occasional paid trips to the San Francisco

Bay Area for company conferences.

In the spring of 2006 the Medical Board

of California decided that only physicians,

not physician assistants, were allowed to

recommend cannabis to patients. So Talleyrand

hired two more physicians —one

each for the Long Beach and Los Angeles

Clinics—and I saw patients only at the San

Diego Clinic. Business was booming and

soon each clinic was seeing patients threeto-

four days a week.

The physician assistant I had previously

supervised was kept on as an educator and

helped put together information packets

that were given to each patient. She also

was quite vocal about the company’s need

to revamp policy in order to be more compliant

with the medical board’s guidelines

regarding the recommendation for the use

of medical marijuana. I suspect this was a

major factor in her being fired.

My patients confirmed over and over

again the therapeutic benefits of Cannabis.

I saw a young father whose limbs (both

legs and one arm) had been amputated

in order to save his life when he was in a

septic coma. After recovery he considered

suicide. None of the many opiate, anticonvulsant,

or antidepressant medications

were effective in controlling his phantom

pain. As a last resort his doctor suggested

he try marijuana —but like most MDs,

wasn’t willing to provide a written recommendation.

Cannabis literally saved his

life and allowed him to be a father again.

When I saw him, he strolled in, with three

limb prostheses and his young daughter in

his arms. He was loving life again and had

been able to taper and discontinue all his

prescription medications.

Another patient, a single mother of three,

told me how cannabis had saved her family.

A few years before I saw her she had

fractured her right lower leg and ankle at

work. Surgery and physical therapy had restored

normal function of her leg but she

developed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

(RSD) Syndrome, causing chronic unbearable

burning pain in the affected leg. The

opiates her doctors prescribed had made

the pain tolerable but impaired her overall

function so much that Child Protective Services

had taken her children from her.

A friend shared some pot with her and

to her surprise the pain lessened. It took

a few months for her to get to the point

where she was taking only an occasional

Vicodin tablet for pain along with daily use

of small amounts of cannabis. She was able

to return to work and her children were returned

to her. Her doctor had referred her

to us for the proper paperwork requested

by Family Court.

In February of 2006, MediCann had

excessive. She furiously started flipping

through the mound of paperwork in front

of her, as if the answer would be there.

When I complained about the inconvenience

of having to take time off work and

was assigned a different monitor.

My next probation monitor was nice

enough to visit me in my office. On our

first visit she looked anxious and refused

to shake my hand. The visit was otherwise

short and courteous. I later found out she

had a germ phobia and was upset about

having to wait 10 minutes in our waiting

room before meeting with me. For our future

visits she waited in her car and then

entered through the back door when I was

ready. She later took a medical leave (I

guess all those germs finally got to her).

The third and final monitor assigned to

my case was an ill-tempered, angry woman,

who took an obvious dislike to me, my

staff, and my boss on her first visit. She

stated things I knew to be untrue concerning

the number of CME units I needed

and the number of charts that had to be

reviewed each quarter. She turned out to

be wrong, but never apologized. She did,

though, restrict most of our subsequent

communication to email, which enabled

her to ignore most of my queries.

When meeting in person she often addressed

me as Mrs. or Ms. Benzor, instead

of doctor. After receiving several snappy

and unprofessional emails from her, I

called her immediate supervisor to complain.

She stated that if I was unhappy with

my monitor, I should call Sacramento.

After several days of trying, I finally was

able to speak to the Director of Physician

Monitoring. When I brought up the issue

of being addressed as Mrs. instead of doctor,

she said she probably shouldn’t discuss

this with me without first “getting the other

side’s version.” Then she added, “Maybe

she forgot you were a doctor.”

I’m not one to put on airs, but it was demeaning

for a bureaucrat to deny me my

hard-earned title. I had successfully completed

four years of undergraduate studies,

majoring in psychobiology, followed by

four years of medical school at UC Irvine,

followed by an Internship in Internal Medicine

at the Long Beach Veterans Hospital.

I have been practicing medicine for 28

years. I like what I do and I’m good at it.

I have helped thousands of people resolve

or manage their medical problems. I have

made life-saving diagnoses and improved

the quality of many lives. Neither of my

transgressions in any way violated my Hippocratic


My Downfall

My ideal work situation deteriorated

after my boss’s wife became the office

manager in January 2010. She clearly resented

the flexibility I’d been given to be

with my family. One day —soon after the

protracted death of my mother and her funeral

(which brought in family from out of

state)— the boss’s wife notified me that my

hours were being cut to 15/week. I cleaned

out my desk and left. I later spoke to her

husband and he and I parted on good terms

and have remained friends.

Finding employment isn’t so easy

when you are a physician on probation.

There were many times during the next

year that I almost regretted walking out.

Finding employment isn’t so easy when

you are a physician on probation. “Only

doctors with clean records need apply.”

I did find part time work as a Sub Investigator

for CiTrials and also worked for

Good Physician Barred From Practicing Medicine

By Joanne Benzor, MD

continued on next page

attorneys —my “gross negligence” had occurred

while I was working for them. But I

was told that since I was no longer an employee,

I was on my own, and they wished

me luck.

I was naive enough to believe that if I

was completely honest in my dealings

with the medical board, everything would

be fine since, after all, I had done no harm.

At the settlement conference in April

2007 I was intimidated by the judge throwing

down three heavy files in front of me

—prosecution paperwork on doctors who

had tried to defend themselves against

Dr. Benzor describes her brood (from left): “Patrick the oldest, and the future writer/journalist;

Billy (William), the budding photographer/psychologist; mom, Dan the Man (Daniel

second oldest) vegetarian musician/farmer, and my Lovely Rita.”

I was naive enough to believe

that if I was completely honest

in my dealings with the medical

board, everything would be fine

since, after all, I had done no


In February of 2006, MediCann had a weekend clinic in the San

Bernardino mountain city of Big Bear. At the time, physician assistants

were still allowed to recommend medical marijuana, and the

PA I was supervising saw patients that weekend.

a weekend clinic in the San Bernardino

mountain city of Big Bear. At the time,

physician assistants were still allowed to

recommend medical marijuana, and the PA

I was supervising saw patients that weekend.

We later found out that five of those patients

were undercover San Bernardino

sheriff’s deputies. Only two of the five

were given recommendations. One had migraines

and had brought his Rx bottle with

Imetrex as documentation of a diagnosis.

The other had chronic post-traumatic pain

in one shoulder and came in with his prescribed


Later they would complain to the medical

board that they had been given recommendations

without having a “complete”

physical exam performed and before the

PA had reviewed their medical records.

No doctor would be investigated if they

had seen these patients in an Emergency

Room and either refilled their prescriptions

or prescribed something similar without

performing a “complete” physical exam or

waiting for medical records to arrive. So

why did I end up with five years on probation?

Mainly because I could not afford an

attorney when I went before an administrative

law judge working for the medical

board. I had been fired from MediCann,

along with the San Diego office manager/

receptionist just before Thanksgiving 2006.

Our accounts receivable were way below

the other offices because I refused to see

more than three or four patients per hour.

I had asked MediCann for help from their

med board accusations— and asked if I

wanted to repeat their futile attempts. One

of the files belonged to the late Dr. Tod H.


Hastily but reluctantly I accepted the

conditions being imposed. The judge advised

me to apply for early termination of

my probation in two or three years.

I was sentenced to five years’ probation

and ordered to take remedial courses

at UC San Diego in physician prescribing

($1,800) and medical record keeping

($1,250). I was prohibited from the solo

practice of medicine and from supervising

Physician Assistants. I would have to pay

probation costs of roughly $4,000/year and

be overseen by a “probation monitor.”

After being fired by MediCann I had

quickly found employment at Apple Medical

Center and Urgent Care in Hemet. I

joined two other MDs and one PA in a busy

and well established practice. Hemet is a

retirement community and caring for senior

patients is exceptionally challenging

but also very rewarding. My boss was very

accommodating and allowed me to work

30 hours a week, which would enable me

to maintain my presence at home with four

teenagers, and to pay our bills.

The first monitor I was assigned had an

office in San Dimas, more than an hour

away from mine in Hemet. After she read

and reviewed the two-page form I had

dutifully filled out and faxed in, I asked

if she thought a fee of $1,800 for a twoday

course in “Physician Prescribing” was

O’Shaughnessy’s • Winter/Spring 2013 —41—

a new Home Health Care Company doing

house calls for homebound (largely vegetative)

patients. I was unable to keep up with

payments to the medical board and borrowed

from my siblings just to stay afloat.

In this period —the summer of 2009— I

was arrested for Driving Under the Influence.

I had gone out to eat with friends at

a local restaurant that had reopened under

new management. We were seated in the

bar instead of the dining room. The waitress

recommended their pomegranate martini.

I like pomegranates and had never in

my life drank a martini, and I was still on

vacation, so I ordered one. It was quite

tasty, certainly did not taste like pure alcohol.

Sometime between the second

and third martini I went into an

alcoholic blackout

I ordered another and sometime between

the second and third martini I went into an

alcoholic blackout, which would last until

I was booked into the Riverside jail hours

later. I have no memory at all of what occurred

in those hours. I previously thought

that only alcoholics had alcoholic blackouts.

I’ve since learned that they are most

likely to occur in non-drinkers when their

blood alcohol level increases rapidly in a

short period of time. I later learned I had

behaved badly for four to five hours. The

arresting officer tape recorded me in the

squad car saying very rude things, some

involving his genitals.

For the misdemeanor DUI I was fined

and sentenced in September ‘09 to three

years of summary probation, five consecutive

weekends washing police cars, firstoffender

classes (weekly for four months),

and ordered to “submit to chemical test of

your blood, saliva, breath or urine or any

reasonable physical test upon request of

any law enforcement or probation officer.”

I duly notified the medical board. It would

be almost a year before they responded.

One morning in August of 2010 a senior

investigator from the medical board’s enforcement

division and her assistant appeared

at my home unannounced and demanded

that I provide a urine sample to

test for drugs. I refused.

I was subequently ordered by subpoena

to appear before the Superior Court for

Riverside County in October, 2010. The

paperwork stated I had violated the terms

of my summary probation by refusing a

“peace officer’s” request for a drug test. I

hadn’t realized that the board’s senior investigators

are “peace officers.” The presiding

judge seemed puzzled —he had no

paperwork in my name, and said that only

a blood test would have been acceptable

evidence. I was sent away with an apology

for the inconvenience.

In June 2011 I was hired on a full-time

basis by Clinica Medica Familiar. I worked

at their Ontario Clinic and quickly settled

in. It is an extremely busy clinic, but so

well run that all the doctors have to do is to

practice medicine. The staff were all friendly

and competent, it felt like home. I’d go

to sleep each night looking forward to going

to work in the morning. I was slowly

but surely repaying my loans, catching up

on my mortgage payments, and trying to

be compliant with my probation. But I was

behind on my paying my probation fees to

the tune of roughly $6,000.

In March 2012, two-and-a-half years after

I had been arrested for DUI, an administrative

hearing was held and the medical

board’s “accusation” against me was presented

to a judge employed by the medical

board. I mentioned to the judge that if the

board really thought I was a danger to the

public they probably shouldn’t have waited

that long to protect the public.

I expected that my probation

would be extended or, at worst,

I would be suspended from practicing

medicine for 30 days.

I’d been unable to come up with the

$5,000 retainer that the attorneys wanted.

I was unsuccessful in finding an attorney

who would take my case pro bono. There

is no equivalent of a public defender in administrative

law proceedings. I expected

that my probation would be extended or, at

worst, I would be suspended from practicing

medicine for 30 days.

The Deputy Attorney General assigned

to my case, Abraham Levy, who had been

pleasant and informative beforehand,

turned into a fighting *** at the hearing,

hellbent on revoking my license permanently.

He was especialy eager that my

drunken vulgar utterances be repeated in

court —as if the judge couldn’t read the

police report. After several unsuccessful

attempts to get the arresting officer to

repeat them, Levy enthusiastically read

them aloud for the judge. One would have

thought I was up on murder charges.

Five-and-a-half weeks after the hearing,

the judge’s recommended decision arrived

by mail. There are no words to describe

how I felt when I read that my license was

to be permanently revoked in 30 days.

On May 18, 2012 my license to practice

medicine was revoked. That was the last

day I worked.

I lost my license for recommending a

safe alternative treatment to a couple of

fake patients and for being a drunken fool

for the first, and last, time in my life.

I thought I would be able to find alternative

employment fairly easily, but four

months have passed and I have not had one

serious job offer. Trying to live on unemployment

benefits is impossible. I wrote

the judge asking for reconsideration and

was advised to contact the medical board.

I have written letters to the MD members

of the board asking only that they take a

personal look at my case. None have even

given me the courtesy of a reply.

Throughout my nearly seven years of being

under the state of California’s watchful

eye, I have never had contact with a single

MD representing the medical board. Not in

person, not by phone, not by email, not by

fax. Not a one.

I did receive a letter from an administrator

citing sections of the Business and Professions

Code that was addressed to Ms.

Benzor. And I did receive an email from an

attorney representing the board citing the

same sections of the code and adding that it

didn’t matter anyways because the 30 days

I had to contest the decision had come and

gone. He reiterated that the board’s purpose

is to protect the public, not to punish


In my case, what, exactly, are they protecting

the public against? The chance

that I will ever again recommend medical

marijuana to an undercover cop? Zero. The

chance that I will ever overdose on martinis

again? Zero.

My kids are all happy, healthy, and wise.

The youngest will graduate from high

school this year, my oldest will graduate

from UC Riverside, and the two in the middle

are in community colleges. The secondto-

the-oldest, the one that caused me to

question my parental abilities many years

ago, has just offered to drop his classes and

work full time in order to lighten my load.

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