Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies aims to put patients first

While medical marijuana entrepreneurs are figuring out how to turn a profit in the face of new statewide regulations, Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies (MMAPR) is working towards a different goal: making sure indigent patients have access to low-cost medical marijuana and other alternative treatments.

The idea for the new organization came to property manager Vincent Palazzotto while he was following the ongoing medical marijuana debates. "I saw the patients getting lost in all of this," he says. "I saw a void." And so he founded MMAPR to fill it.

Partnering only with patients who qualify under the Colorado Indigent Care Program model used by many state hospitals, the program works to cut costs at every step of the medical marijuana process. MMAPR's 200 or so current clients receive a 25 percent discount on physician visits at the Denver clinic MMD Doctors, 30 to 50 percent discounts at a variety of local medical marijuana centers, and free eighths of medicine monthly from a select group of centers. What's more, thanks to seed money from Palazzotto and co-founder John Comandari, plus donations from businesses like Legalized Apparel, MMAPR pays 30 to 50 percent of clients' annual $90 state medical-marijuana registration fee.

Because of federal restrictions on marijuana, MMAPR isn't a federally recognized nonprofit. But Palazzotto says the organization follows all the same rules, including ensuring that 70 percent of all proceeds go to patient programs. The organization operates like an HMO, he explains, connecting doctors and businesses with patients in exchange for price breaks.

What's next for MMAPR? Encouraging the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to adopt parts of its model for the statewide indigent program that the department has to develop for medical marijuana. Palazzotto's organization also hopes to find a way to help homeless patients get marijuana even though they don't have current addresses, as well as open a center for indigent patients who can't medicate at home because they live in state or federal assisted-living facilities.

That's an ambitious agenda for an organization that's just getting started, but Palazzotto believes it's work that needs to be done. "If you look at the basics of Amendment 20, it was supposed to help patients," he says. "It wasn't supposed to be where we are today."