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But attorney Brian Vicente, executive director of the non-profit drug-reform organization Sensible Colorado, isn't so sure. "If the doctor does not see a patient," he says, "I think it's pretty difficult to argue that they are in compliance with the law and that they have a bona fide doctor-patient relationship."
CannaMed's financial aid program may be suffering from its own success. Although Mazin insists he has fifteen to twenty marijuana businesses waiting for patients to sponsor, several former CannaMed workers say the company now has more patients signing up for financial aid than it has dispensaries or growers willing to pay for them.
"There were patients coming in who didn't get their caregivers for months," says one of these former employees. "Now that there are so many other choices out there, CannaMed is scrambling to find caregivers." Another employee claims that if CannaMed hasn't found a sponsor for a financial aid patient by the end of the sixty-day period within which the paperwork has to be sent to the state, the patient's form is changed to reflect a more recent date.
1240 S. Parker Road
Denver, CO 80231
Category: Marijuana - Medical
Region: Southeast Denver
And in the meantime, while people wait weeks or months to be assigned a caregiver, the only places they can buy pot are CannaMed stores. A CannaMed letter given to financial aid patients notes that until they're assigned a caregiver, they'll receive a CannaMed statement that "is not a legal document and can not be used to prove patient status." However, the letter goes on to note that "this document may gain you access into any CannaMed USA affiliated dispensary."
Although Westword has a copy, Mazin denies that such a letter exists.
Several patients who've gone through CannaMed's financial-aid program describe other frustrating experiences. While Mazin says patients get to pick from a selection of caregivers, some patients say they had no choice in the matter; others had trouble getting their assigned caregiver to call them back or provide them with medicine. And while Mazin insists that these patients are free to designate a new caregiver with the state any time they like, he also insists that they first repay their assigned caregiver's investment in them. "They cannot take advantage of somebody who paid $350 for them and say, 'You know what, screw you, I am going out on my own,'" he says.
Some patients may wind up shelling out even more. A contract between an assigned caregiver and a CannaMed financial aid patient obtained by Westword notes that if the patient wants to end the year-long sponsorship early, the caregiver is owed $150 plus 21 percent interest compounded daily from the day the agreement goes into effect.
Such contracts are not legal, according to Sensible Colorado's Vicente. "CannaMed can create whatever straw-man contractual agreements they want," he says. "None of it is binding in any way. What it comes down to is a patient can switch caregivers without giving notice to anyone except the state."
Vicente is also skeptical of another CannaMed practice. Patients who pay the full amount for their evaluation rather than take the financial aid option can, for an additional $50, get a "Physician's Statement Regarding Medical Cannabis." Mazin says the document, which notes that the patient has met with a CannaMed doctor, gives patients more options while they're waiting for their card from the state. "There are several dispensaries that will honor the doctor's statement instead of state paperwork," he says.
But the statement itself includes a notice warning patients that it is not a legal document and cannot be used to purchase medical marijuana without a state license. And several dispensary owners say they've refused to honor the certificates when CannaMed patients have tried to use them in their stores. "It has the exact same power as the doctor's recommendation form would have — or actually less," says Vicente. "If it really is just a statement, it's really worthless. What has the power is the recommendation form that has the doctor's recommendation."
Before Very Best Medicine and CannaMed's two affiliated dispensaries opened for business, former employees say that the company created relationships with nearby pot shops. One former CannaMed employee says the company would charge dispensaries $200 a month to advertise their services at CannaMed locations.
Westword spoke with five of Mazin's former employees, all of whom asked that their names not be used. Several describe employment arrangements that they fear could land them in legal hot water, such as being given unlimited access to the company car, the CannaVan, which is emblazoned with the company's logo, and having the option of getting paid in weed. Others say they worry that Mazin will retaliate against them. Still, at least one former employee recently reported his concerns about CannaMed to the Denver Police Department. "The department does not have an active ongoing investigation into CannaMed at this time, nor can I address whether any other state or federal agency does," says DPD spokesman Sonny Jackson.
Mazin dismisses his accusers. "Shit doesn't stay under snow," he says. "Snow always melts. Shit always surfaces."
If CannaMed's selling of patients isn't illegal now, it soon could be, if Senate Bill 109 is signed into law. That proposal, which has passed both the Senate and the House and should eventually reach the governor's desk, would place new restrictions on medical marijuana doctor evaluations and prohibit doctors from receiving financial compensation from dispensaries. "Senate Bill 109, once it's in effect, will end the practice of people being able to buy patients," says state senator Chris Romer, who authored the bill. "We wrote the bill to level the playing field and get rid of incentives."