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State: Highland Park doctor ‘phonied up medical marijuana papers’ for medical pot

Medical marijuana isn’t even available yet in Illinois, but state regulators say that hasn’t stopped some doctors from already breaking the rules.

A Highland Park doctor is the first in Illinois to face a disciplinary hearing regarding medical marijuana.

Facing the possible suspension or revocation of his medical license, Dr. Joseph Starkman listened as lawyers for the state agency that regulates doctors told an administrative law judge Friday that he “phonied up a certificate” for patients seeking to use medical marijuana.

And he did that before the medical marijuana program was even in gear, they said during a state disciplinary hearing for Starkman at the Thompson Center.

“He was looking to make a quick buck and jump on that bandwagon before other doctors could,” Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation attorney Laura Forester told Administrative Law Judge Michael Lyons.

The counterfeit certificate bore the seal of the state of Illinois, and it listed the state’s Department of Public Health as a contact.

But Starkman’s attorney denied that the north suburban doctor did anything wrong and said he was following business advice he got from an attorney.

“He did not make any misrepresentations to patients, nor did he intend to mislead patients,” Stephanie Wolfson said.

“This is not a man who did this for the money,” Wolfson said.

Starkman’s fate is to be decided before year’s end. The administrative law judge will to make a recommendation to the Illinois Medical Disciplinary Board, which will then recommend to the director of the state agency what it thinks should be done.

State regulators want Starkman to get an indefinite suspension of his license and be ordered to pay fines of at least $50,000.

Starkman isn’t the first doctor accused of wrongdoing involving the state’s new medical marijuana program, though his case is the first to go to reach this far.

Last year, Dr. Brian Murray, a Lake Forest physician who was accused of attempting to pre-certify patients when there was no such process, was given indefinite probation and fined $10,000 under an agreement he reached with state officials.

In another case, still pending, state officials have accused Dr. Bodo Schneider of charging dozens of patients to pre-certify them to receive medical marijuana despite not being their treating physician — which is required under Illinois law.

Starkman is accused of charging at least 30 patients $250 for a consultation that resulted in a phony medical marijuana certification.

In one instance, in December 2013, an unidentified patient — a man who was 79 and had recently been diagnosed with glaucoma — found Starkman’s website, called the listed number and paid a $250 fee over the phone, according to state records. The man met with Starkman and was told he qualified for the drug, officials  say.

Then in January 2014, the same month the law making medical marijuana legal in Illinois took effect, the man received the phony document, officials say.

At the time, despite the law, medical marijuana couldn’t yet be used because the administrative rules hadn’t been put in place.

“He didn’t bother to check what the law was,” Forester said. “He made up his own.”

Outside the hearing Friday, Starkman would not comment.

His attorney said, “He’s not a danger to his patients.”