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— updated 2003-03-24


Herbalist Review, Issue 2003-#1:
State Health Freedom Acts - A Growing Trend

by Roger W. Wicke, Ph.D.

An analysis of the current trend among U.S. state legislatures passing Health Freedom Acts to protect alternative and complementary health practitioners.

Subtopics on this page…

Copyright ©2003 by RMH-Publications Trust; all rights reserved.


Disclaimer: The information contained herein is presented as an educational service and not for the purpose of providing legal advice, which can only be provided by licensed attorneys.


Currently herbalists need to exercise caution in avoiding the appearance of practicing medicine

There is much confusion among students of herbology and even among professional herbalists over the legal and regulatory requirements affecting practicing herbalists. Moreover, a lack of clarity over this issue has led many to attempt covering themselves by acquiring certificates, licenses, and alphabet-salads to trail after their name; these attempts vary in credibility, from quickie "become-an-herbalist-in-ten-easy-steps" programs to thorough and extensive study programs. Unfortunately, this has often resulted in many aspiring herbalists pursuing bureaucratic approval from some perceived authority rather than acquiring the clinical and mental tools necessary to effectively help one's clients.

The current reality is that:

  1. Herbalists do not need a license to offer help to the public in improving their health.
  2. However, even licensed non-physician practitioners (acupuncturists, chiropractors, and nurses) with years of professional training have been prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license, often because they violated several very basic rules. Several years ago we discussed these rules and guidelines in an article on our website. •[1]•

Libertarian trends in health care: Health Freedom Acts in California, Rhode Island, and Minnesota

Practicing as an herbalist to help people regain their health, in contrast to "prescribing herbal medicines" and "diagnosing and treating medical conditions", has always been a right recognized by American and English court jurisdictions for hundreds of years, ever since the famous decree of King Henry the VIII in 1543 C.E. •[2]• Recently, the states of California, Rhode Island, and Minnesota have passed statutes upholding this principle amidst a growing libertarian sentiment regarding freedom of choice in health care. In spite of current despotic and unconstitutional obsessions over Homeland Security at a federal level, and perhaps even hastened as a result of angry public backlash, this trend shows no signs of abating. The Internet revolution, a revolution no less profound than those initiated by the printing press and the single-loader rifle which ultimately destroyed the feudal powers of the Middle Ages, has made so much information available to people that we see a growing phenomenon of patients who know more about their disease than many of their health providers. Such individuals will likely be demanding more, not less, freedom of choice in their own health care options.

The significance of the statutes passed by California, Rhode Island, and Minnesota is that non-licensed herbalists in these states will no longer have to worry about vicious legal and regulatory attacks on their activities, as long as they honestly state to the public their educational qualifications and training and as long as they do not falsely claim to be medical doctors when they are not. This is the essence of what state supreme courts have concluded all along, but the lack of a clear and concise statutory summary of these principles have allowed the courts to harass and prosecute herbalists and naturopaths based more frequently on word games and trickery than on any valid basis in unethical or damaging actions by these practitioners.

"The California bill amends the California Medical Practices act to allow unlicensed healers to practice freely as long as they disclose that they a) do not claim they are a medical doctor, b) do not perform surgery or harmfully invade the body, c) do not administer or prescribe radiation treatments, prescription drugs, other controlled substances, or recommend their discontinuance, or d) do not provide a treatment that harms a client." •[3]•

Herbalists not from the states of California, Rhode Island, and Minnesota should read "The right to practice herbology, legal history and basis" •[1]• and follow the simple guidelines therein, as they are really not that different from the statutory guidelines set forth by these three states. As more practitioners recognize what many state supreme courts have already concluded, I predict this will only hasten the official recognition by other state legislatures following this trend. California, Rhode Island, and Minnesota are considered by demographers to be "bellwether" states, who lead the nation in initiating policies that eventually become adopted nationwide.


How to get a version of the Health Freedom Act passed in your state

We support the libertarian trend toward greater freedom of choice in health care. History has demonstrated that monopolistic licensed professions frequently become more interested in expanding their own economic power than in protecting the public health. •[1]• •[2]• Voluntary professional associations should be free to set their own educational standards and to honestly represent these standards to the public, so that individuals may make their own informed choices free from coercion by government mandates.

Take action now:

(1) Write letters to your state representatives encouraging them to support legislation similar to California's Health Freedom Act.

(2) There is strength in organized numbers: here are some organizations whose stated purpose is to support health freedom nationwide, and we encourage you to read their websites and to contact them for more information:

National Health Freedom Coalition
Complementary Alternative Medical Association
Citizens for Health
International Advocates for Health Freedom
Arkansas Health Freedom Coalition
California Health Freedom Coalition
Florida Health Freedom Coalition
New Jersey Natural Health Coalition
New York Natural Health Project

Support freedom of speech for doctors

Those of us who are "alternative" health providers sometimes forget that there are many well-meaning physicians who risk persecution by their state medical boards if they stray too far from orthodoxy. We support freedom of speech for physicians, too: any physician should have the right to inform patients of information he or she believes to be true, even if it conflicts with accepted medical practice, especially if preceded by a disclaimer that the information does not constitute accepted standards of practice. What could be fairer?

Privately, I've been told by many of my physician friends that almost all cancer chemotherapy and radiation treatments are worthless, yet these physicians also warn me that they would not be able to tell their patients this for fear of loosing their medical licenses. Why should they have to wait until the New England Journal of Medicine comes to essentially the same conclusion after decades of obfuscation on this life-and-death issue? •[4a, 4b, 4c]• Physicians should not have to forfeit their freedom of speech to obtain a license to practice.


What this means for you if you are considering becoming an herbalist

In summary, the acts passed by California, Rhode Island, and Minnesota are based on ancient legal principles of prohibiting fraudulent actions and misrepresentations. It does not matter how many alphabet-salad titles, certificates, or seals of approval you possess if there is no substance behind them. In other words, accurate documentation of your education, training, and expertise is paramount, regardless of whether you have been awarded an impressive-sounding title by someone else. A degree from a recognized, accredited institution used to carry more weight, but with the general decline of educational standards, many potential health care clients will be scrutinizing the training and competence of all their health-care providers.

Consider taking courses from various individuals and institutions based on the quality of specific courses. Document each course by obtaining a signed statement from the instructor including the dates, total number hours involved, and your performance or grade in the course. Apprenticeships and internships with experienced practitioners are often a superior way to learn, but heavy legislative lobbying by accreditation committees and professional schools have attempted to phase out this form of competition to institutional learning. One effect of state Health Freedom Acts will be to help restore these types of educational opportunities, effectively allowing students and practitioner-instructors to circumvent costly and increasingly irrelevant educational bureaucracies. Trends in home-schooling parallel the trends in professional education, allowing both teachers and students at all levels to avoid entrenched educational institutions as the latter self-destruct. •[5]•


How this affects RMHI certification options

RMHI has never awarded degrees, as we are a self-supporting private educational organization whose educational policies are not determined nor constrained by any third parties. (College accreditation is an expensive and man-hour intensive operation, and we feel our efforts are best focused on more practical concerns.)

We do award certificates of completion, which include detailed statements of fact regarding the specific subjects of study and the estimated number of hours apportioned to each. This documentation will provide you with the evidence to back up public statements and representations of your educational background. (Previous RMHI graduates have successfully used our certificates to satisfy continuing medical education requirements, to apply for third-party professional certification, and for degree credit at accredited colleges and universities.)

During the past decade, RMHI has developed a range of computer-aided learning software that we now incorporate into all our training programs. This software has made thorough and comprehensive distance-learning feasible and practical for health professionals who could not otherwise afford to take time off to return to school.


Famous quotes

"The Constitution of this Republic should make special provision for Medical Freedom as well as Religious Freedom... To restrict the art of healing to one class of men and deny equal privileges to others will constitute a bastille [prison] of medical science. All such laws are un-American and despotic."   — Benjamin Rush, M.D., signer of the Declaration of Independence
"I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform them."   — Thomas Jefferson


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