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Sure, he has money, Mazin says, but he's worked for it. He's been involved with gasoline stations, an upholstery shop, a furniture factory, a real-estate company. He dabbled in all these businesses during the years he's spent in the States, living part of that time in California and the rest in Colorado. In the early 1990s, he took a three-year sabbatical back in Russia to do public relations work for Mikhail Gorbachev, he says, and he has a photo of the former Soviet leader on his office wall to prove it.
In 2006, he opened AAA Alliance Group at 6855 Leetsdale Drive in Denver; according to information cached on the company's website, it protects property from lawsuits, expunges criminal records and issues credit to new immigrants, among other things.
Not long after he started that business, Mazin says, he heard about the THC Foundation, a nonprofit that runs medical marijuana evaluation clinics in many pot-friendly states and had just opened a location in Wheat Ridge. The foundation's mission was to fill in for Colorado physicians who were reluctant to recommend marijuana because of concerns that they'd get in hot water with the feds if they did. (After Colorado voters passed Amendment 20, in 2000, then-attorney general Ken Salazar warned physicians that participating in this state's medical marijuana program might result in federal charges.)
1240 S. Parker Road
Denver, CO 80231
Category: Marijuana - Medical
Region: Southeast Denver
Mazin thought a business that provided evaluations might have promise, and in December 2008 he registered CannaMed with the state; it shares an address with AAA Alliance. (He says his company has no connection to another medical marijuana evaluation company called CannaMed that had opened in Thousand Oaks, California, two months earlier.) At the time, CannaMed was only the second medical marijuana evaluation clinic in the state, and the only for-profit one. Today there are more than a dozen, but CannaMed is reportedly the largest.
Mazin also owns two dispensaries, Medical Marijuana Connection and Boulder Kush, that are located at the CannaMed outlets in Colorado Springs and Boulder, respectively. And last fall, his brother, Jacob, opened a dispensary, Very Best Medicine, next door to the Denver CannaMed. It's in the building owned by David Mazin, and past employees say he operates as this dispensary's de facto manager. Flat-screen TVs in his office show live video feeds from all three CannaMeds and their corresponding dispensaries.
The medical marijuana empire he watches over has been suffering since August, Mazin says. That's when FBI agents raided CannaMed's Denver location as well as his personal residence as part of a crackdown on a suspected $80 million fraud scheme. Agents also hit a dozen other metro locations, hot on the trail of a nationwide scam operation in which young people, often on visas from the former Soviet Union republics, allegedly racked up purchases on credit cards obtained by fraudulent businesses, with no intention of paying for them.
"We got hurt for no reason," says Mazin, noting that while none of the four people arrested during the raid was associated with his various enterprises, agents confiscated the pot they found at the dispensary next to CannaMed, as well as medical records for more than a thousand of CannaMed's patients. Mazin's still waiting for the return of those records; he claims their seizure violated medical privacy rules established by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
The fraud investigation is still ongoing, says FBI spokesman Dave Joly, adding that the medical records will be returned as soon as his agents have made copies, in case the documents prove relevant to the government's case.
Since the raid, CannaMed's revenues have dropped roughly 40 percent, says Mazin, who estimates that the business sees about 250 patients a month. On some days, he adds, no one comes in at all.
But CannaMed records obtained by Westword paint a very different picture. Intake reports suggest that the company has seen several thousand patients since August, and former employees say it's not uncommon for 70 to 120 patients to visit the Denver operation on a single Friday. "It's like you're at the freakin' DMV," reports one. A former employee of Very Best Medicine says that dispensary has boasted $10,000 days since the raid.
Competition from CannaMed "is killing us," says Scott Carr, manager at the THC Foundation. He estimates that his Colorado operation, which is now based in Denver, is doing 30 percent of the business it did last year. Even after dropping its fees from $200 to $160 per visit, it still can't compete with CannaMed's prices.
The two operations' fees used to be pretty similar. But that changed a year ago, when CannaMed launched its financial aid program.
Amendment 20 allows for each medical marijuana caregiver to possess up to two ounces of pot or six live plants for each patient they look after. So anyone who wants to open a dispensary reads that to mean they must be the assigned caregiver for enough patients to cover the amount of weed they plan to have on hand. The same goes for those who start marijuana grow facilities; the operation must have a patient for every six plants.
David Mazin says he came up with the financial aid program as a way to help fledgling medical marijuana businesses get their patients, as well as help indigent patients get their medicine.