The state board that licenses medical doctors has reprimanded and fined a physician who held medical marijuana clinics in Orono hotels, failed to keep adequate patient records and engaged in other unprofessional conduct.

The discipline represents the first action by the state against a doctor in connection with medical marijuana since it first became legal in Maine in 1999.

The board investigation found that Dr. William Ortiz held a “medical seminar” in a conference room at the University Motor Inn and at the Black Bear Inn in March 2013, when he saw 59 patients over two days and charged $200 cash to issue a three-month medical marijuana certificate. During follow-up visits, Ortiz charged patients $175 for a one-year certificate, the reprimand said.

In a consent agreement, Ortiz agreed to pay a $2,000 fine and reimburse the Board of Licensure in Medicine $1,412 for the costs of its investigation.

The investigation came in response to information received from the Maine Medical Marijuana Program, the agency of the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees the state’s rules governing access to medical marijuana. If a physician certifies that a patient with whom he or she has a patient-doctor relationship meets the requirements of the law, the patient is allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and purchase it from licensed dispensaries or obtain it from a licensed caregiver.

Under questioning from the board, Ortiz gave differing accounts of how long he met with individual patients over the two days and how long he gave medical lectures orienting new patients with medical marijuana. The board said that using his own estimates, Ortiz would have had to spend four hours giving lectures on March 20, and 22 hours seeing patients within the same day.

The patients came from all over the state. It’s not clear how they heard about Ortiz’s clinics.

Ortiz did not return a call to his office in Caribou seeking comment Monday. Calls to the attorney who represented him before the board also were not returned.

A woman who answered the telephone at the Caribou office said a statement would be published on his website, although it had not appeared by Monday evening.

The board subpoenaed Ortiz’s medical records for the patients who attended the clinic and found they contained “sparse information regarding Dr. Ortiz’s medical decision-making and failed to include a treatment plan.”

Ortiz said in his defense that a person who owned a store in Orono had double-booked his patients for that weekend. The investigation discovered that the store sold marijuana paraphernalia.

Ortiz also said that he became interested in medical marijuana because he had benefited from using it to treat his own chronic pain. He said his wife and daughter assisted him with his medical clinic in the University Motor Inn. Ultimately, the hotel manager asked him to stop, according to the complaint.

Renewal of Ortiz’s license was put on hold while the board proceeded with its complaint, but it never lapsed. His license was renewed as part of the consent agreement and Ortiz is still licensed to practice in Maine.

Around the time the board complaint was initiated, several patients complained on Internet bulletin boards that certificates provided by Ortiz were invalid. It’s not exactly clear why.

DHHS spokesman John Martins said the documentation provided to the state by Ortiz was not compliant with the program.

Of the 59 patients seen, there was no documentation of an examination or a treatment plan for 44 of them, the board said. It also said Ortiz “created a negative impression of his activities” by seeing patients at unusual times, including at 3 a.m.

The law requires that a doctor can certify a patient for use of medical marijuana if they have an established doctor-patient relationship to ensure the marijuana is for “a qualifying debilitating condition” and to avoid the experience of some other states where doctors issue certificates with little regard for medical necessity.

“I remember hearing these stories about a number of clinics in California and a lot of references to drive-by clinics,” said Andrew MacLean, deputy executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association. “One of the essential elements of a bona fide physician-patient relationship would be a physical examination and a diagnosis.”

MacLean said that for the most part, Maine doctors have complied with the state’s medical marijuana rules. Doctors involved in or considering offering the service will pay attention to the board’s action in this case, he said.

“This being a case of first impression, I’m sure that’s going to have a sentinel effect. Everybody who is doing this will check their practice, against the guidance,” he said.

Dr. Dustin Sulak, an osteopath who specializes in therapeutic uses for marijuana, said the conduct addressed by the board has little impact on other doctors who use marijuana to treat patients.

“I like to be distinguished from – the term in California is the ‘five-minute pot doc,’ ” he said, referring to how quickly some doctors will issue a marijuana certificate. “I’ve never wanted to judge or put these doctors out of business. They’re providing a service to the public and that’s not a service I’m willing to provide.”

Sulak, who has offices in Falmouth and Manchester, has become known throughout Maine for his willingness to certify patients for medical marijuana. He was the subject of a Portland Press Herald story in 2012 after he placed an ad in a weekly newspaper offering a $50 discount to students for medical marijuana evaluations.

Sulak is aware there are doctors who certify patients for medical marijuana even though the patients may not have a debilitating medical condition. He said he does not believe there is a public health consequence to that practice.

“Probably the most harmful effects of cannabis prohibition are the legal consequences,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s truly their motivation for providing certificates or if it’s just to make money.”

Ortiz, whose corporate headquarters is in Caribou, has been licensed in Maine since 2012. He also is licensed in Massachusetts and has had no disciplinary action taken against him in that state, according to its records.

Ortiz describes his practice on the website The Health Clinic LLC, which includes a typical fee of $300 for an initial visit at his corporate office in Caribou, at offices in Holyoke and Northborough, Massachusetts, or at its mobile clinic in Massachusetts. Its website currently says it is scheduling consultations in Caribou in October.

The company’s logo uses the initials from its name – THC – which is also the abbreviation for the active chemical ingredient in marijuana.

Ortiz graduated from New York Medical College in 1996 and did his residency at Baystate Medical Center, according to the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine. He specialized in general medicine and geriatric medicine. He has been licensed in Massachusetts since 1999 and recently renewed the license.

In the agreement with the Maine board, Ortiz agreed not to engage in the behavior again. The board’s decision will be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank and the Federation of State Medical Boards Action Data Bank.

State law does not allow the DHHS to track how many people are receiving medical marijuana or which doctors are certifying people for it.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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