A Tacoma physician, charged with unprofessional conduct by the state for advertising his willingness to authorize medical marijuana, is fighting back, saying the ban on such advertising illegally restricts doctors right to free speech.
The state Department of Health charged Dr. Scott Havsy, an osteopath specializing in pain management, on July 19 for a display featured on the homepage of his practices website.
The words Medical Marijuana Certificate appear with the Rx prescription symbol superimposed over a marijuana leaf. Above is the headline: Find out if you qualify for a Green Card?
Health Department spokesman Tim Church said he believes Havsy is the first physician in Washington to be charged under the law banning medical marijuana advertising.
Havsy says he refused a Health Department settlement offer that would have had him remove the display, admit to unprofessional conduct, pay a $1,000 fine and take 10 hours of classes on legal issues. Instead, he wants a public hearing, and says hell take the issue to the Washington State Supreme Court if necessary.
What they are trying to do is limit physician advertising, Havsy said. This is not about marijuana. Its about physicians right to advertise and inform the public about what we do.
Under Washingtons medical marijuana law, physicians can assist patients with medical marijuana and write authorizations for those who qualify.
Theyre not allowed to include any reference to medical marijuana written or visual in an advertisement. According to state law, thats unprofessional conduct, punishable by fines and other sanctions, up to and including revoking a doctors license to practice medicine.
There are laws to follow and we expect people to follow them, Church said. This law is pretty clear.
Havsy contends the law is unconstitutional.
This is not obscenity. Its not something thats illegal, he said. All Im doing is taking information from the Health Department website and the statute and advising people. Mine is an informational website.
Havsy sees the advertising ban as government intrusion and a step down a slippery slope on which political and moral biases are imposed on medical practice.
Today its marijuana, he said. Tomorrow it might be abortions and womens right to choose.
The Washington State Medical Association voices no objections to physician advertising in its code of medical ethics, other than to say advertisements should be true and dignified.
However, doctors need to respect the law, said Jennifer Hanscom, the medical associations associate executive director.
Washington state law clearly states that advertising medical marijuana is unprofessional conduct, Hanscom said. Physicians have an ethical duty to abide by the laws of the state and, if they disagree with the laws, they should work to change them.
Havsy was a pioneer in the medical marijuana field, openly advertising his services in the Little Nickel newspaper and the yellow pages of the phone book beginning at least three years ago. At that time, he was known as Tacomas top pot doc, the go-to guy for green cards needed to obtain medical marijuana.
For years before that, Havsy used display advertising, billboards and television commercials to promote other aspects of his practice.
In the past two years, demand for medical marijuana authorizations created a rush of companies such as 4Evergreen and CannaPath, formed specifically to examine patients and issue the cards.
Those businesses multiplied when the state expanded the list of medical professionals authorized to issue the approvals to include not only medical doctors and osteopaths, but also physician assistants, naturopaths and advanced registered nurse practitioners.
Havsy says marijuana authorizations amount to about 10 percent of his practice.
Unless a settlement is reached with Havsy, Church said, the Health Department and the Board of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery will schedule a public hearing not unlike a trial in the criminal system.
Decisions at the disciplinary hearings are appealable to Superior Court.