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Wednesday, May 11,2011

What's next for Dr. Wiggins?

The Meridian Township Board of Trustees schedules an election on a controversial property rezoning, but it may not be needed. Meanwhile, state allegations of a local doctor’s overprescribing pharmaceuticals may have implications for medical marijuan

by Andy Balaskovitz

The Meridian Township Board of Trustees
has added a vote to the August 2012 primary election ballot on whether
to allow a controversial property rezoning for a doctor who wants to
open a medical marijuana certification clinic.


The clinic can’t open until the
residentially zoned property is changed to professional office. But the
doctor can apply for a special use permit that would allow her to
operate at the location between now and the vote, the township director
of planning said.


The doctor is Shannon Wiggins, who is
also facing eight counts by the state of allegedly overprescribing
pharmaceuticals. In one case, the state says a patient died.


Wiggins declined to comment, her receptionist said.


Wiggins is seeking to rezone 4133 Okemos
Road in order to open a clinic that would combine urgent care treatment
and medical marijuana certification exams. The township board voted 4-2
on March 1 to grant the rezoning. A successful petition drive forced the
issue to an election. The 2012 primary is the first township-wide
election.


Mark Kieselbach, director of community
planning and development in Meridian Township, said Wiggins can apply
for a special use permit to open her clinic while she waits. The
property is zoned residential, and Wiggins wants it zoned professional
office.


“Dr. Wiggins could apply and seek a
special use permit and have a clinic,” Kieselbach said. “She could have
done that initially if she didn’t want to go through the zoning
process.”


Kieselbach said getting a special use
permit and not changing from residential “doesn’t have quite as much
marketability” for resale than if the property was rezoned to
professional office.


The special use permit would be granted
by the township’s nine-member planning commission and would not go
before the Board of Trustees, Kieselbach said. He added that a special
use permit doesn’t expire.


After the township board granted the
rezoning, two Okemos-based attorneys, Stephen Schultz and William Fahey,
organized a successful petition drive to force the rezoning issue onto
the ballot.


City Pulse reported last week that
Wiggins faces eight counts of “negligence,” incompetence” and “selling,
prescribing, giving away or administering drugs for other than lawful
diagnostic or therapeutic purposes” from the state Department of
Community Health.


Wiggins owns Alternative Choice Clinic at 2310 E. Michigan Ave. and 4415 N. Grand River Ave. in Lansing. 


Township officials said the allegations against Wiggins and the rezoning are separate issues.


“We (the township board) don’t regulate
how people practice medicine. That should be at the state level,”
Meridian Township Supervisor Susan McGillicuddy said. “That issue should
never come before the Board of Trustees. All we look at is the land
use.” 


As for the allegations, it is
undetermined when and if Wiggins will face disciplinary action. Joy
Yearout, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said Wiggins
will be invited to a private “compliance conference” with the six-member
disciplinary subcommittee of the Board of Osteopathic Medicine and
Surgery. Yearout said typically “there is an agreement of whether she
admits to some of the allegations” at this meeting. However, Wiggins can
object to any and all of the allegations. That would lead to a public
hearing before an administrative law judge in which both sides — Wiggins
and the 11-member Board of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery — make
their cases, Yearout said.


While the pending complaint does not call
into question Wiggins’ medical marijuana exams, local attorney Matt
Newburg said it leaves the door open for that part of her business to be
further scrutinized by prosecutors.


Newburg, who specializes in medical
marijuana law, said the only basis in which doctors can be investigated
for improper medical marijuana recommendations is if no “bona fide”
patient-to-doctor relationship is established. While Newburg said
“doctors engaged in a bona fide relationship receive the same protection
as a patient and caregiver,” he added that the pending allegations
could affect those who got their recommendations from Wiggins and are
awaiting approval from the state.


“If she loses her license for
overprescribing medication, the analogy can be made that she made the
same procedure for medical marijuana patients,” Newburg said. “It would
leave the door open for a prosecutor to say she might have not engaged
in a bona fide doctor/patient relationship.”


However, anyone who may have to represent
one of Wiggins’ medical marijuana patients in court should note that
once a card is issued by the state, “that doctor is deemed engaged in a
bona fide doctor/patient relationship,” Newburg said.

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