Medical Marijuana Rip-Offs: Five Reasons to Not Pay for Patient "Pre-Registration"

(Note: This blog has been edited for clarity and accuracy since its initial publication. New Times sincerely regrets the errors.)

Arizonans won't be able to apply for medical marijuana patient cards until next April, but several local groups are already making money by claiming to have some sort of fast-track to getting patient cards and dispensary applications approved. And they're charging people hundreds of dollars for what they call "pre-registration."

On Monday, we blogged about a so-called "medical marijuana college," Arizona Dispensary University, that's charging people $100 to $250 per class and purports to offer "pre-registration." The "instruction" consists of nothing more than public information, speculation, and advice.

Now, there's an organization called Arizona Comfort Care that also claims to offer "pre-registration" and help for people to submit and process their patient applications. They claim they can evaluate people to see if they qualify for medical marijuana. It costs $160, and requires a person to submit their medical records.

But frankly, no one needs these services. Here are five reasons not to send your money and personal information to organizations like ADU and Arizona Comfort Care:

1. There is no such thing as "pre-registration." The Arizona Department of Health Services -- the only entity that can issue patient cards and dispensary licenses -- won't have their system set up until next spring. They have not even published an application for potential patients to fill out yet. Groups that claim to offer "pre-registration" are really offering nothing more than public information and their opinions, and taking people's information to sign them up as potential patients at dispensaries that don't even exist yet. People who "pre-register" with these groups aren't any closer to getting their medical marijuana cards than anybody else -- but they may be shorter on cash at the end of the day.

2. These groups can't write doctor recommendations for medical marijuana. On the home page of their website, Arizona Comfort Care states that it is "a network of medical clinics throughout Arizona staffed by local board certified physicians" who "specialize" in medical marijuana evaluations. But if you read the FAQ, you learn that all they're offering is an evaluation of whether or not someone might qualify as a medical marijuana patient. It's written into the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act that a doctor can recommend marijuana in the course of an established patient-doctor relationship. The ACC states its physicians will not function as primary doctors for potential patients -- and that means no recommendations from them. [Addendum: Per the comment left below by Dr. Edgar Suter of the ACC, he says physicians ARE writing recommendations at ACC facilities. But this is not explicitly stated on the ACC website]

3. They may ask you to bring your medical records to them. Why pay somebody like ACC $160 to pour over your medical history just to tell you "Yeah, you might qualify -- talk to your doctor"? Start by talking to your doctor and save yourself some privacy and cash. If your doctor's not open to the idea of medical marijuana, you can probably establish a patient-doctor relationship with another doctor who is.

4. They cannot get your application processed or approved any faster than if you submitted it yourself. Again, only the Arizona Department of Health Services can approve patient and dispensary applications. No one outside ADHS has any authority or influence on the approval process.

5. There are no medical marijuana dispensaries in Arizona yet. Most of these groups -- including Arizona Dispensary University and Arizona Comfort Care -- are tied to would-be medical marijuana dispensaries. They're collecting potential patient information to sign them up at their dispensaries -- when and if their dispensary applications are approved. When the system is in place and ADHS begins issuing patient cards, patients will be able to go to any Arizona dispensary for their marijuana. So in essence, people who "pre-register" are paying to sign up on somebody's mailing list.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea