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Karen needed a medical marijuana card. She'd smoked enough pot in her fifty years to know that it subdued her recurring headaches, her nausea, the pain that lingered from the knee surgery she'd had a few years earlier. With all the medical marijuana dispensaries proliferating around Denver, it just made sense to get legal with her medication.
To obtain that card, though, she needed a doctor to recommend her for medical marijuana — and since she couldn't afford health insurance, she hadn't seen a regular physician in years. Where to find a doctor? The answer was easy: CannaMed.
When CannaMed opened in Denver in early 2008, it was one of the state's first operations devoted to helping people get medical marijuana cards. Today it bills itself as Colorado's leading medical marijuana evaluation company, with new locations in Boulder and Colorado Springs and a catchy slogan: "Can't med without CannaMed."
1240 S. Parker Road
Denver, CO 80231
Category: Marijuana - Medical
Region: Southeast Denver
One of the main reasons people choose to med with CannaMed is that it can be very cheap. When Karen called, she learned that an evaluation appointment cost $200 — but CannaMed also offered a $50 "financial aid" option, which sounded ideal. So this past October, she went to CannaMed's Denver office and sat down with James Boland, the doctor working there that day. He asked Karen why she wanted medical marijuana and inquired about her knee surgery, and didn't seem to mind that she hadn't brought medical records. "It was like, down to business, boom-boom-boom," she remembers. After meeting with her for five minutes, Boland signed Karen's recommendation for medical marijuana. But he didn't give her the paperwork she'd need if she was going to apply for a medical marijuana card with the state.
Under the terms of the financial aid program, CannaMed would hold on to Karen's paperwork until she'd been assigned a caregiver — the person who, at least on paper, would be in charge of providing her with medical marijuana. Then the company would give the paperwork to the caregiver, who would help Karen fill out her application for the state and pay her $90 registration fee. According to the agreement CannaMed had Karen sign, she'd have to keep that caregiver for a year and couldn't grow any of her own medicine during that time. If she wanted out of the deal, she'd have to pay.
And until CannaMed paired her with a caregiver, Karen could shop at a CannaMed-affiliated dispensary, conveniently located next door to each CannaMed evaluation location.
Karen went home and waited for her caregiver notification. And waited. After about a month, an envelope came from CannaMed containing her medical paperwork. Since she'd been told her caregiver would deal with her application to the state, she figured this envelope contained copies. And then she got a call from a woman who said she was her official caregiver. She told Karen that she worked at a Denver dispensary separate from those associated with CannaMed, and that if Karen stopped by, she'd sell her some medicine.
Karen never did. "I was feeling kind of strange about the whole deal," she says.
A few weeks later, Karen got around to looking at her paperwork — and realized that CannaMed had sent her the originals. That meant no one had sent her application to the state, much less paid her $90 registration fee. Since her application had to be received by the state within sixty days of the doctor's signature, by this point her evaluation was no longer valid.
When she signed the CannaMed agreement, Karen wasn't told how the other half of the financial aid program works — how the company sells its financial aid patients to dispensaries and marijuana grow facilities so that these operations can show they're caring for enough patients to account for the marijuana they have on hand. Such sponsors pay up to $350 per patient, sometimes buying them from CannaMed in packs of fifty. And that's just one of several questionable CannaMed practices that former employees and patients described for Westword.
While CannaMed's owner insists that he's doing nothing wrong, his company could be on a collision course with legislation now going through the State Capitol.
CannaMed recently cut its prices to $150 for a regular visit and $29 for its financial aid option — but Karen hasn't been tempted to return, or to try any of the other operations that now offer medical marijuana evaluations. "I'm not going back," says Karen. "I feel like I've been walked on and cheated. It's just not fair."
There's one thing that David Mazin, owner of CannaMed, wants people to know more than anything else: He's not Russian mafia.
He's heard the rumors going around medical marijuana circles. "We are not Russian mafia," he says, fuming in his office at CannaMed's Denver location. "I've been fucking working thirty years of my life here. I came here in 1980, and because I'm Russian, that means I'm mafia?"
Maybe the rumors are fueled by his lifestyle, the 54-year-old Mazin suggests. The Mercedes-Benz S-class he drives, the one with tinted windows. The suits and wide-brim hat he wears. The fact that he smokes all the time. Or maybe it's because on the wall of his office, he's mounted a very realistic-looking gun below a photo of Tony Montana from Scarface.