Dr. Hany Youssef Assad and his NorCal Healthcare System Medical Clinic, whose main office is in Oakland, recommended marijuana to patients an estimated 40,000 times in the past seven years. It was one of the most prominent cannabis clinics in the East Bay, netting $1.2 million in revenue per year. And while it's common knowledge in California that cannabis users can get a doctor's recommendation for as little at $150 and a handshake, Assad ran such an egregiously negligent operation and had such a dark track record as a doctor — including an alleged rape and two alleged sexual batteries of patients — that the California Medical Board took the historic step of revoking Assad's license late last year.
According to the Medical Board, there are more than 99,000 physicians in California, yet Assad's case is believed to be the first in which a doctor lost his license to practice medicine for carelessly recommending marijuana. In addition, thousands of local patients now have shady recommendations from a discredited doctor and some cannabis dispensaries won't honor them.
Public records also indicate that Assad's revocation has more to do with his history of sexual abuse than pot. His drive by style examinations happen everyday. And had it not been for his proclivity for feeling up patients, Assad might still be writing scripts for cannabis in Oakland.
Nonetheless, his business, NorCal Healthcare, remains open, because a new pot doctor has taken over. The new guy, Dr. Philip A. Denney of Sacramento, also was the only person to stand up for Assad at his medical board hearing last year. Denney said he knew of Assad's sordid past, but he decided to come forward anyway because he felt that Assad's handling of the marijuana case that resulted in the revocation of Assad's medical license was correct even if his loose practices were suspect. "I struggled with it, I really did," Denney said. "I had the impression there were very real problems with Assad's practice."
For his part, Denney appears to be the polar opposite of Assad. He's an old-school clinician who insists on wearing a white doctor's coat and doing things by the book. For example, he said in a recent interview that healthy young men will have a hard time getting a recommendation for pot without bringing in their medical records that show a history of ineffective treatment for a malady. And, unlike Assad, he said he won't write recommendations for patients with mental health issues and complicated medical histories. "If you're healthy with nothing wrong with you, it's very hard for me," Denney said. "If you come in with a shopping bag full of medications, a complicated medical history and you're depressed over your breast cancer, that's harder for me. If you're in a wheelchair, it's easy."
Denney also said he intends to lead by example in an exploding field inherently attractive to profiteers, mavericks, and some downright bad doctors.
Dr. Assad's troubles began more than a decade ago, shortly after he received his license to practice medicine in California. According to medical board records obtained by the Express, the Egyptian-born and trained doctor received his California Physicians and Surgeon's Certificate Number A54309 in 1996. But then a year later, while he was working for Kaiser Permanente Medical Group in Vacaville, he started seeing patient "KS," a then 31-year-old woman with a history of migraines. She was in a troubled marriage with two small children.
From November 1997 to the February 2000, patient KS saw Assad for treatment at Kaiser roughly forty times in 26 months. Initially, he would do weird things to her like lift her off the exam table. He would hold her in his arms before putting her down. He often held her face during exams for no apparent medical purpose, and would routinely call her to "check if she was okay," according to medical board records.
Then in spring of 1998, during an examination, Assad passionately kissed her and asked if he could call her. She said yes. He called that day, and asked her to meet him at a local motel. According to medical board records, Assad gave her money to request a room at the back of the motel and they had sex.
The tryst continued throughout 1998, with Assad meeting KS at a motel up to three times a week. He told her to hide the affair, and continued to treat her as a patient with a total of 83 injections of heavy narcotics Toradol, Demerol, and Phenergran or a combination of all three. KS would call Assad for an injection and come down to Kaiser to receive it. According to records reviewed by the medical board, Assad did no further evaluation of her migraines nor did he assess the effectiveness of his treatment method.
By the summer of 1998, KS's world was starting to unravel. She separated from her husband, moved out two months later, and then things only got worse. "She had an ovary removed," according to medical board records, "was working about 67 hours a week, was the full time custodial parent for her two children, was having problems with her estranged husband and was in a clandestine sexual relationship with Assad." He also kept kissing her at the doctor's office, and on at least two occasions, inserted his fingers inside her vagina for no apparent medical purpose.
By the end of 1998, medical board records indicate that Assad was stalking his patient. She had a male friend over to her house one night, and Assad called her afterward, said he'd been watching with a gun and that he wanted to shoot her, her friend, and himself.