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
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 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
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
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
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.