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Prescribing doctor on board probation

He prescribed marijuana to two patients without examining them, according to the Medical Board of California. He also issued a marijuana recommendation to a heroin addict without checking into the person’s medical background, the board said.

And Dr. Stephen Banister, western Nevada County’s leading marijuana prescriber, denies none of it. He also suggests he was unfairly singled out.



“It’s certainly the case that doctors who prescribe (marijuana), many have been investigated. So people can make what they want out of that,” said Banister. The board put him on three years’ probation in November.




The Grass Valley doctor must attend an assessment and education program and allow another doctor to monitor a portion of his marijuana recommendations. He also must pay $17,000 for prosecution and probation costs, according to the medical board.

By failing to examine patients before issuing a recommendation, Banister said, he wasn’t much different from many doctors who are never investigated.

“I didn’t feel that an examination added anything to the extensive record that the people had of their illnesses, so I didn’t,” he said.

According to medical board documents, Banister:

— prescribed marijuana to a 34-year-old woman in 1998 for back pain from a spinal fracture, but he didn’t examine her records.

— prescribed marijuana, starting in 1997, to a 25-year-old woman with neck pain and menstrual cramps and nausea without showing he had examined her.

— prescribed marijuana in 1997 to a 45-year-old man who had chronic leg pain from a gunshot wound and had hepatitis and a history of drug abuse.

The board says Banister left no record he examined the man or contacted his methadone treatment center.

Marijuana advocates, prosecutors, officers and Banister himself say he’s the most prominent marijuana-prescribing doctor in this area.

He joined talks in 2000 led by the District Attorney’s office that set a county guideline of 2 pounds of marijuana and 10 plants for each patient so they could avoid prosecution. He’s testified at marijuana cultivation trials for patients and spoken at cannabis seminars.

He also prescribed marijuana to Scott Thorpe, the alleged gunman in the Jan. 10, 2001, shooting rampage, according to a Sheriff’s Office report.

While the medical board accused him of failing to examine patients, he insisted he checks patients’ medical records for mental illness.

Banister said he prescribes to patients for pain or nausea, and if the patient has a psychosis, he would only prescribe marijuana with the treating psychiatrist’s approval.

District Attorney Mike Ferguson said he has no knowledge of his office aiding any medical board investigation of Banister. But he disagreed with claims the doctor is being picked on.

Generally, he said, “I think the medical board is there for a purpose. Doctors who make recommendations … should not be there to facilitate recreational use.”

Martin Webb, a marijuana patient and teacher on how to cultivate it, claims Banister is among other prescribing doctors being punished for sticking their necks out.

“My whole theory is the government doesn’t have the resources to arrest patients, and it’s much easier to go after the doctors,” he said.

Banister’s supporters, Webb said, might hold a fund-raiser to help defray his legal costs, and he added rumors have included a possible performance by rock star Neil Young.

– Doug Mattson


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