Medical marijuana: Do Joseph Montante, Dallas Williams busts mean doctor fraud's rampant?

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On March 22, two doctors practicing in northern Colorado were arrested by the Larimer County Sheriff's Office on charges of writing false medical marijuana prescriptions for undercover officers.

If the charges against them are true, does that make them typical of MMJ physicians? Or the exceptions?

The investigation was initiated after law-enforcement officials received information that two doctors -- Dallas Williams of InHarmony Wellness Center and Joseph Montante of Dr. Green Blossom Wellness Center -- were allegedly issuing prescriptions to patients who had no medical condition that would authorize medical marijuana use under state law.

While Larimer County officials say the case points to a statewide breach in medical marijuana laws, MMJ activists say it suggests nothing more than unnecessary police attention.

Brian Vicente, director of Sensible Colorado, a medical marijuana activist group, doesn't deny that there are some instances of false medical marijuana recommendations. "I'm not saying there isn't any abuse. I believe there is some abuse, the same way it is for people going to doctors to get prescriptions they don't qualify for," he explains. "But the vast majority are legitimate, and they're for patients who qualify under state law."

And even if there are violations, they don't justify the time that Larimer County put into this operation, Vicente continues, citing the "massive waste of law enforcement resources of undercover stings trying to set up doctors for a fairly harmless substance. Prescription-drug overdose is the number-one cause of accidental death. You would think police would want to focus on overprescribing those drugs rather than marijuana, which has never killed anyone. Why the police would waste their time is beyond me."

But John Schulz, public information officer for the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, says there had been an ongoing concern that the "dramatic rise in the number of medical marijuana patients in a short period" could be attributed to doctors issuing false medical marijuana recommendations.

According to data provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the number of medical marijuana patients in Larimer County doubled in 2010 -- from 4,821 medical marijuana patients to 8,416 patients at the start of 2011. But those numbers are already starting to fall off. In early 2012, Larimer County had only 4,886 patients.

Here are larger versions of the Williams and Montante mug shots.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: CDPHE's Dr. Chris Urbina on physician assistants, patient denials."

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