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Cannabis Conflict? Medical marijuana program hires new part-time director

Some say Dr. Steven Rosenberg may have a conflict of interest

August 22, 2013, 5:00 pm
By Peter St. Cyr

The state’s medical cannabis program has a new part-time medical director.

After searching for more than a year, Deputy Health Secretary Brad McGrath and program manager Ken Groggle have hired Dr. Steven Rosenberg of Albuquerque.

Rosenberg, who owns Albuquerque Integrative Medicine, will be responsible for reviewing patients’ applications referred to the department from other doctors and physician assistants.

The selection of Rosenberg has been met with some skepticism.

Steve Jenison, the former chairman of the Medical Advisory Board, is concerned. He tells SFR he’s worried about a potential conflict of interest since Rosenberg himself refers patients to the program for certification.

But DOH spokesman Kenny Vigil doesn’t believe there is conflict.

In an email to SFR, Vigil states that Rosenberg will not review his own referrals. That will likely be done by another part-time doctor who will eventually share the position. DOH says it is still advertising the job.

Jenison and others in the cannabis community don’t buy it.

“I would say that I do not believe the department saying that someone else will review applications for his certifications eliminates the conflict of interest,” Jenison says. “It’s still there, and it’s still obvious.”

After talking to SFR, Jenison, who was not reappointed to the advisory panel this spring after his term expired, wrote a letter to DOH Secretary Retta Ward and Chief General Counsel Chris Woodward.

Jenison believes Rosenberg is well qualified to be the program’s medical director and will bring rigor and passion to the position, but needs to eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“If Dr. Rosenberg were taking this position and leaving his role as a clinician whose primary business is the certification of people for the Medical Cannabis Program, then there would not be an issue to my mind,” Jenison wrote in the letter. “Even if another NMDOH clinician were to review the patient registry applications that included written certification from Dr. Rosenberg acting as physician for Albuquerque Integrative Medicine, there are still concerns and perceptions that should be addressed by the Department of Health.  Conflicts of interest are not uncommon in a state as small as New Mexico and in an area of interest as specialized as medical cannabis programs. I assume that the New Mexico Department of Health has a rationale for addressing this apparent conflict of interest, and I believe that the Department should share that rationale in order to address the concerns that this situation raises.”

Medical Cannabis Program advocate and radio talk show host Larry Love shares Jenison’s concerns.

“Dr. Rosenberg has complained that his competitors are rubber-stamping patient applications, but his own clinic does nothing but certify cannabis patients. That’s the very definition of a mill,” Love says.

He points to Rosenberg’s recent work as an expert witness for the New Mexico Medical Board, noting that Rosenberg "testified against one of his competitors.”

That competitor, Dr. Nick Nardacci, had his licensed suspended indefinitely last week and was ordered to pay Rosenberg's more than $8,000 fee.

Attorney Paul Livingston represented Nardacci. He's also upset Rosenberg has been hired by DOH.

“Now the board, who wants to change the rules, won’t have to. They’ll have their man working on the inside,” Livingston says.

State Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Bernalillo, a longtime proponent of medical cannabis, says he doesn’t know enough about Rosenberg’s Albuquerque practice to determine whether a conflict exists.

“In my view, it's good to have a doctor who wants to see a healthy program,” McSorley says. “In that respect, I support his selection.”

Rosenberg, who declined SFR’s requests for an interview, has his supporters. Willie Ford, the founder of R. Greenleaf Organics (one of 23 licensed nonprofit cannabis producers), says he knows Rosenberg is a proponent of the program and could help train other doctors and clinicians on how to certify patients who qualify for medical marijuana.

“He understands the state mandate to give eligible patients access to medical cannabis,” Ford says. “We don’t want to become like a Colorado, where a doctor is rubber-stamping patients through. That puts the program at risk.”

Ford also hopes Rosenberg will convince his bosses there’s a severe shortage of available medication in the state.

“If patients are not getting it, he’ll know that’s a travesty,” Ford tells SFR.

Rosenberg will be paid $74.30 an hour and is allowed to work up to 20 hours a week. He’ll share the position with another part-time doctor after NMDOH finds a qualified candidate. Both of them will report to Groggle, the program manager.

SFR has uploaded the medical director’s job description, Rosenberg’s application, and job posting on our DocumentCloud below.

 

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