Trenton, NJ (WorkersCompensation.com) - Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs announced today that the State Board of Medical Examiners (“the Board”) has temporarily suspended the license of a physician participating in the State's Medicinal Marijuana Program (“MMP”) amid allegations he created a multimillion dollar enterprise by indiscriminately authorizing marijuana use for thousands of patients he met in hotel conference centers across the state.
Dr. Anthony Anzalone, 66, who has been a registered participant in the MMP since 2012, must wind down his medical practice within the next 30 days and cease practicing medicine altogether on February 8, under the terms of an Interim Consent Order he entered with the Board on Wednesday. His license will remain temporarily suspended until the allegations against him are resolved.
“State legislatures may relax their laws against marijuana – and many already have – but there are limits to what state law allows, and the public should know that we vigorously enforce those limits to protect public safety and prevent unlawful distribution,” said Attorney General Grewal. “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. We expect physicians to abide by the rules and regulations of their profession, no matter what kind of medicine they are practicing.”
In a Verified Complaint filed with the Board, the State alleges that Anzalone, who advertises as “NJGreenMD,” engaged in fraud, gross negligence, and professional misconduct by indiscriminately authorizing medicinal marijuana to large groups of people who attended conferences he held in hotels around the state, charging each an initial consultation fee of $350 and subsequently charging each quarterly fees of $100 for continued authorization of the drug.
The State alleges that Anzalone's marijuana practice was inherently impersonal and detached from any effort to individualize care. At the hotel conferences he held, Anzalone typically discussed medicinal marijuana generally with the group and then relied on his staff, who were not trained in the field of medicine, to register these individuals in the MMP with 90-day supplies of the drug, to instruct the patients on use and storage of the drug, and to obtain the initial consultation fee, typically paid in cash, the state alleges.
In order to expand his patient base and increase his revenues, Dr. Anzalone routinely registered patients who would not qualify for the MMP because they lacked a debilitating condition as defined by regulations, or fabricated debilitating conditions to qualify them, the State alleges.
Since registering for the program, Anzalone has authorized nearly 3,250 patients for medicinal marijuana. He currently has about 2,077 active patients, while most of the physicians registered with the MMP have an average of 45 patients, according to the Verified Complaint.
“We allege that Dr. Anzalone exploited his patients and the MMP for his own gain, completely disregarding the regulations meant to protect patients and promote the efficacious use of medicinal marijuana,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “By temporarily suspending Dr. 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.”
The New Jersey Department of Health, which administers the MMP, will provide assistance to patients affected by Anzalone's temporary suspension.
"The Department of Health's Medicinal Marijuana Program will assist patients who need help transitioning to a new physician,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal. “Patients can search for a participating physician by county on our website or call our customer service unit at 609-292-0424 for assistance in finding physicians.”
The Medicinal Marijuana Program was established under New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, a law that offers legal protection to individuals who are seriously ill and require marijuana as an alternative treatment for certain, defined, qualifying conditions.
Under regulations promulgated by the DOH and the Board, physicians are required to register with the DOH to participate in the MMP. Participating physicians must have an active New Jersey medical license issued by the Board of Medical Examiners, an active Controlled Dangerous Substance registration, and a bona fide relationship with participating patients. Participating physicians – there are currently 865 - are authorized to certify patients with certain medical conditions to receive marijuana at one of the six dispensaries permitted by the MMP.
Anzalone, who specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology, was among the first doctors to register for the MMP program and has since limited his practice to the MMP.
The Enforcement Bureau of the Division of Consumer Affairs opened an investigation into Anzalone and his practice based on a referral from DOH following the MMP's receipt of numerous consumer complaints against him.
The State alleges that undercover State investigators posing as patients seeking medicinal marijuana, as well as several actual patients who had made complaints about Anzalone, confirmed that the doctor “practices with little regard for patient privacy, and in a manner inconsistent with the bona fide physician-patient relationship requirement,” according to the Verified Complaint.
According to the Verified Complaint, Anzalone failed to comply with MMP regulations in his treatment of four actual patients and two undercover investigators posing as patients by, among other things:
providing a certification and written instructions to a patient for the medical use of marijuana with whom he does not maintain a bona fide physician-patient relationship;
failing to perform a comprehensive medical history and physical examination of the patient to determine if that patient suffers from a debilitating medical condition qualifying him or her to receive medicinal marijuana;
failing to assess the patient's qualifying condition at least every three months; and
failing to keep accurate and complete records pertaining to his medical marijuana treatment.
Under the terms of the Interim Consent Order, Anzalone is prohibited from registering new patients into the MMP or beginning any new treatment in any specialty of medicine, including Obstetrics and Gynecology, during the 30-day wind down period.
During the wind-down, he may provide only one 30-day medicinal marijuana renewal to existing patients who are due for renewals within the wind-down period, and only after he conducts an in-person, private physical examination of the patient to ensure that the medicinal marijuana renewal is medically necessary and appropriate for the patient's MMP qualifying debilitating condition. He also must create records, according to MMP and Board regulations, documenting these encounters, and including findings that support his decision to renew medicinal marijuana. Anzalone is prohibited from increasing fees for these consultations beyond his customary $100 charge.
During the wind-down period Anzalone also must cooperate with the DOH in transitioning patients who wish to continue MMP care to other MMP registered physicians, including informing his patients that he is temporarily barred from the MMP.
Investigators with the Enforcement Bureau within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation into this matter with assistance from the Department of Health.
Deputy Attorney General Michael Antenucci, of the Professional Boards Prosecution Section in the Division of Law, represented the State in this matter.