Please don't call him New Jersey's top pot doctor. Or a preeminent weed specialist.
Never mind that Andrew Medvedovsky is fast becoming the face of marijuana doctors in the Garden State.
Medvedovsky, 35, a board-certified neurologist who specializes in pain management, has recommended cannabis to more than 3,000 patients for various ailments. Last week, he opened his fourth cannabis-patients-only clinic — in staid Moorestown, where restaurants not long ago had to obtain voter permission to serve liquor.
He testifies before lawmakers about ways to improve the medical-marijuana program; gives public speeches almost weekly on the benefits of cannabis; and provides nursing-school students the opportunity, and credits, to learn about a topic once dismissed as nonsense.
He's on the advisory board of the Compassionate Sciences dispensary in Bellmawr and the board of trustees for New Jersey Cannabusiness, which promotes the new industry.
So why won't Medvedovsky agree that he is one of the state's top pot docs?
His objection is the use of the word pot. It still evokes a stigma and scorn in some circles, including fellow doctors, he says. Though polls show that more than 80 percent of Americans support medical marijuana, some physicians' organizations remain reluctant.
"I would rather be called a pain specialist who is cannabis-friendly," Medvedovsky said last week at his bustling New Jersey Alternative Medicine clinic in Turnersville. Pot sounds "too hippieish," he said, "and takes away the credibility of the medical service we offer and the science of cannabis."
But two years ago, before he registered with the state's marijuana program, he was not such a true believer. Only about 500 doctors out of 36,000 statewide have signed up to write "recommendations" for patients to obtain cannabis at one of five designated dispensaries.
Larry Downs, CEO of the Medical Society of New Jersey, said research on the effectiveness of marijuana was so thin that "many doctors don't consider it medicine at all." That could be a reason for the low registration number, he said. The American Medical Association, he said, suggests putting a warning on cannabis products about the dearth of evidence.
Medvedovsky changed his mind about the usefulness of marijuana, he said, as his cannabis clientele grew and after 80 percent of the patients came back with glowing reports.
"I have many more patients who are happy," he said. "This has given people their quality of life back."
Now, he devotes 70 percent of his medical practice to working at his cannabis clinics. Only about a dozen ailments qualify for a cannabis recommendation in New Jersey, including cancer, so some patients are not eligible. He provides traditional treatments at separate clinics.
The state list should be expanded to include chronic pain and opioid addiction, Medvedovsky said, and he has submitted testimony to a state health panel considering it.
"It would be unethical, in some ways, to not offer patients this relief," said Medvedovsky, who liberally sprinkles words such as amazing and wow into his upbeat remarks. As he speaks, his two Boston bulldogs walk into his office. The dogs, which are around to help calm patients with anxiety, smother him with wet kisses.
Medvedovsky, who came to the United States as a child from Russia, lives in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania is said to be about a year away from having medical marijuana — seven years after New Jersey and more than 20 other states acted.
The son of a Brooklyn furniture-store owner, he was brought to the U.S. at age 7. "I got to live the American dream and I got to pursue a career I love," he said, "and I wake up with a purpose."
His older brother, Boris, a nephrologist in New York, says he does not recommend cannabis for his patients but is impressed by the results his brother says he has witnessed. Research also shows cannabis has value, he said.
Andrew Medvedovsky earned a medical degree from Ross University in Dominica and did his residency at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System. His mentor at VCU, Maged Hamza, a pain specialist, said he was not surprised Medvedovsky was the one embracing the treatment alternative while others remained on the sidelines. "He's a strong patient advocate," Hamza said.
Dana Kelley is a patient from Pennsville who has used cannabis for two years to alleviate pain triggered by a fractured spine. Medvedovsky, she said, helped her just as she considered giving up. "He is very human, one of those souls that feels a need to alleviate pain. … You can call him day or night, and he never says, 'You're bothering me.' "
Medvedovsky charges patients $300 to $400 to enroll in the cannabis program and then $100 every 90 days to continue the medication, as required by state law. He offers discounts to veterans and patients on assistance programs and doesn't charge patients who are children.
His fiance, Vanessa Amador, teaches cannabis-cooking classes at the Turnersville clinic.
Amador said she had no qualms when Medvedovsky told her his plans to recommend cannabis.
"Everything he does, he puts his heart into it," she said, "and people see that."
Medvedovsky's newest clinic is in an office park where lawyers, doctors, and opticians operate businesses. This summer, he opened clinics in Princeton and Linwood. They are open one or two days a week and are staffed with physician's assistants and educators who teach patients about cannabis and its various strains. The rooms are decorated with Zen symbols of peace, pictures of green forests, and tchotchkes that include a painted Volkswagen bus.
Medvedovsky became involved in the cannabis business after many patients confided that they had purchased cannabis on the street and that it worked better than the pain-relief drugs he prescribed.
"I thought, Wow, this is interesting, and I was able to learn from the patients to see the benefits and their experiences," he said.
While in college, he never tried marijuana, because he didn't want to feel "doped out." After hearing his patients' stories, he tried it to satisfy his curiosity and found it gave him "focus and positive energy, not the stereotypical high."
Cannabis, Medvedovsky said, should only be used medically. It's not addictive, he said, but dependence can develop if it's used over time.
Perhaps the only other New Jersey cannabis doctor as busy as Medvedovsky is Anthony Anzalone, who used to call himself "Dr. Marijuana" and claimed to have the most patients in the state. Previously a Rutherford gynecologist, Anzalone was one of the first doctors to register, in 2013, and soon opened several offices in North Jersey.
Last year, Anzalone's offices were evicted by his corporate landlord. He now sees patients in leased conference rooms in North Jersey hotels. He said he has recommended cannabis for 1,500 to 2,000 patients over the years, but no longer promotes himself as Dr. Marijuana. The use of that name, he said, was bad advice from a "marketing guy."