"How can you get patients?" he asks. "Are you going to put an ad in Westword and say, 'I am looking for patients'? No. So how are you going to open your door and bring medicine to your facility if you don't have enough patients to cover the medicine?"

CannaMed had the answer: providing patient names to caregivers in exchange for $350 one-year "sponsorships" paid to CannaMed. "People have sponsorships for everything," Mazin explains. "What we're doing is good for the caregiver and good for the patients. We connect people."

Many people couldn't afford a medical marijuana evaluation without CannaMed's financial aid option, he notes: "We have many satisfied patients."

With CannaMed, David Mazin found something new to sell: medical marijuana.
Jim J. Narcy
With CannaMed, David Mazin found something new to sell: medical marijuana.
Scott Carr manages the non-profit THC Foundation, which can't compete with CannaMed's financial aid option.
Jim J. Narcy
Scott Carr manages the non-profit THC Foundation, which can't compete with CannaMed's financial aid option.

Over the past year, other medical marijuana evaluation companies such as Canna Health, Denver Longevity Clinic and Green Door Wellness Centers have adopted Mazin's concept of sponsorships. And some dispensaries have cut out the middleman altogether, hosting doctors on site and offering incentives for patients who see those doctors to make the dispensary their caregiver.

Such arrangements have helped fuel the ferocious growth of the state's medical marijuana industry. "If I am a marijuana grower and I just moved into the state and I want to make big bucks, I can just go and buy patients," says one Denver dispensary owner who says Mazin offered to sell him patients in blocks of fifty. "I can get legal today, without having to meet any of the patients."

Mazin insists that the financial aid program is only a small part of CannaMed's business, involving only 20 percent of those who come in for a doctor's appointment. Former employees, though, estimate that close to half of all CannaMed patients take the financial aid route. "You probably can't even fathom how much money was made, a lot of which came from financial aid," says one, who claims that caregivers had to buy a minimum of five patients and that some shelled out for more than a hundred. Some CannaMed employees were reportedly given a $100 bonus for every ten patients they sold.

The selling of patients doesn't sit well with Warren Edson, a prominent marijuana attorney who was one of the key people behind Amendment 20. "I know that patients need financial assistance and that these doctor visits cost a lot of money, but this feels wrong," he says. Edson likens it to Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, offering to pay for people's doctor visits as long as they agree to buy their pharmaceuticals from the company.

"This, to me, is not an isolated thing," says Jerry Peters, commander of the North Metro Task Force, a police narcotics team, as well as vice president of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association. "It might be an isolated business decision, but there's widespread abuse across the industry. Whether it's selling patients to dispensaries out the back door or large-scale grow operations near schools and in neighborhoods, there are so many issues that surround this industry. Part of Amendment 20 was that people could pick their caregiver, who would have significant responsibility for them. If you couldn't grow it yourself, there should be a caregiver who should provide it for you. Now they are taking that apart and telling people, 'I am going to sell your name to a caregiver that you have never met.'"

Paul Stanford, founder of the THC Foundation, believes that doctors involved in such financial aid programs may be at risk of violating federal stipulations that physicians cannot help patients obtain medical marijuana. But so far, no doctors have been charged.

"Amendment 20 did not contemplate these sorts of commercial arrangements," says Mike Saccone, a spokesman for the Colorado Attorney General's Office. Still, his office will only consider whether the practice of buying and selling patients violates state law if one of those patients makes a complaint — and so far, he says, none has.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which maintains the state's medical marijuana registry, tries not to get involved with interpretations of Amendment 20, says spokesman Mark Salley. In August, statistics released by the department showed that fifteen doctors in the state were responsible for 75 percent of the 10,000 patients then on Colorado's medical marijuana registry. Paul Bregman, a doctor who's been working three days a week at CannaMed for the past year and a half, estimates he's seen in the vicinity of 1,750 patients and figures he might be one of those fifteen doctors. (James Boland, another doctor who works at CannaMed and saw Karen there, did not return repeated phone calls.) Because of confidentiality rules, the department cannot release the names of those doctors or confirm where they work, says Salley.

According to Chris Lines, spokesman for the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners, which oversees this state's physicians, the board hasn't received any complaints regarding doctors involved with CannaMed or other medical marijuana evaluation companies.

But former employees say that in some cases, a physician's assistant visited with patients and wrote their medical marijuana recommendations, which a CannaMed doctor later signed off on — without ever seeing the patients.

Dr. Bregman says he's never signed off on a PA's recommendation without first visiting with the patient, though he adds that he was aware that such practices were being discussed at CannaMed. "That's okay," Mazin says of having a PA write patient recommendations. "If that happened, there's nothing illegal about that."

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