Marijuana ‘Caregivers’ Getting Little Oversight

May 11, 2014

The young woman pulled her Sub­aru wagon into the park­ing lot of a Fram­ing­ham hotel Wednes­day night for a pre­arranged meet­ing with some­one she knew only as Kool Guy, a man with short black hair and glasses who resem­bled actor Joaquin Phoenix. She handed him $250 cash for an ounce of mar­i­juana dubbed Blue Cheese. He threw in four free sam­ples — choco­late and caramel can­dies laced with THC, the ingre­di­ent respon­si­ble for the drug’s high. “The first time we met, I was ner­vous,” said the 31-year-old woman named Janeen, who found Kool Guy through a web­site that matches med­ical mar­i­juana patients nation­wide with “care­givers” in their area who sup­ply cannabis that they have grown or bought from oth­ers. Now, mak­ing her fourth pur­chase to help with severe migraines, Janeen felt com­fort­able enough to bring along the 97-year-old woman she cares for. Kool Guy is part of a boom­ing cot­tage indus­try of self-described care­givers who have jumped in to meet the demand cre­ated by the state’s year-and-a-half-old med­ical mar­i­juana law. While Mass­a­chu­setts health offi­cials have been pre­oc­cu­pied with vet­ting and licens­ing store­front dis­pen­saries, these entre­pre­neurs are hawk­ing prod­ucts with names such as Jack the Rip­per and Sour Diesel on the Inter­net. They oper­ate in a legal gray area, with no reg­u­la­tion or over­sight. Bill Down­ing, a long­time activist for legal­iz­ing mar­i­juana who is from Read­ing, said his com­pany, Yan­kee Care Givers, deliv­ers med­i­c­i­nal cannabis prod­ucts grown by “old hip­pies” to about 940 patients through­out Mass­a­chu­setts who order from the company’s web­site. His prices range from $320 an ounce for strains of mar­i­juana called Green Crack, Sweet Tooth, and Blue­berry Cannabis Flow­ers to $7 for another, edi­ble vari­ety, Green Karma Happy Taffy Lol­lies. The care­givers and patients such as Janeen, who asked to be iden­ti­fied by only her first name, said that they’ are fol­low­ing the law and state health reg­u­la­tions. The rules allow patients with doctor-provided cer­tifi­cates to grow mar­i­juana or have a care­giver cul­ti­vate it or obtain it for them — up to 10 ounces for a 60-day sup­ply. Care­givers are lim­ited to sup­ply­ing just one patient at a time, but care­givers, patients, and even some police offi­cials say the rules are unclear and open to inter­pre­ta­tion. The state Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health issued guide­lines for law enforce­ment in March, but Read­ing Police Chief James Cormier said they leave many ques­tions unan­swered. “We are in a big state of con­fu­sion right now,” he said. “What we need is a clear def­i­n­i­tion of what is a care­giver.” The state health agency is aware of the flour­ish­ing trade, but has appar­ently done noth­ing to stop it. Karen van Unen, direc­tor of the department’s med­ical mar­i­juana pro­gram, declined to be inter­viewed, and did not answer ques­tions sub­mit­ted through a spokesman about whether the pro­lif­er­a­tion of online care­givers serv­ing mul­ti­ple cus­tomers vio­lates state reg­u­la­tions. Van Unen released a state­ment, say­ing: “The Depart­ment actively coop­er­ates with law enforce­ment when there are con­cerns about vio­la­tions of these reg­u­la­tions, and is devel­op­ing an online sys­tem which will pro­vide law enforce­ment with real-time access to patient and care­giver reg­is­tra­tion, and will improve offi­cials’ abil­ity to mon­i­tor com­pli­ance.” Since vot­ers legal­ized med­ical mar­i­juana in Novem­ber 2012, the state has granted pre­lim­i­nary approval for 20 dis­pen­saries, but has delayed licens­ing them amid rev­e­la­tions that some of the com­pa­nies made mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions on their appli­ca­tions that the state failed to uncover before select­ing them. Many patients have mean­while received cer­tifi­cates from physi­cians allow­ing them to obtain mar­i­juana for an array of con­di­tions. But with dis­pen­saries not expected to open until the fall at the ear­li­est, they have turned to the Inter­net, where sites such as mar​i​juana​-care​giver​.com pro­vide a list of eager sup­pli­ers. Patients and care­givers find each other through forums on the web­site and then arrange pur­chases through e-mail, pri­vate mes­sag­ing, tex­ting, and phone calls. The site includes patients’ rat­ings of care­givers, and fre­quent posts about upcom­ing deliv­er­ies around Mass­a­chu­setts. “We are care­givers and patients on Cape Cod look­ing to help other patients in need,” read one post. Another per­son wrote, “Are there any care­givers that would be will­ing to grow for my wife? Not sure if this is even pos­si­ble with these ridicu­lous MA laws.” Care­givers reg­is­tered on the site say patients must pro­vide a copy of their doctor’s cer­tifi­cate and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion before they will sell them mar­i­juana. Some refer to their prices as a “dona­tion,” in an appar­ent effort to com­ply with state reg­u­la­tions that pro­hibit care­givers from mak­ing a profit on mar­i­juana. Many of the care­givers have their own doc­tors’ cer­tifi­cate that allows them to legally carry up to 10 ounces of mar­i­juana in Mass­a­chu­setts. “I don’t think I’m break­ing the law,” said Kool Guy, who spoke on the con­di­tion he not be named for fear of legal prob­lems and because he wants to main­tain his pri­vacy. “You have to fill the void with some­thing and that’s what we’re doing right now. When the dis­pen­saries open up, we are going to dwin­dle away.” Kool Guy said he grows a small amount of mar­i­juana and has to buy from other care­givers to meet the demand of about 20 patients. He said he deliv­ers to depart­ment store park­ing lots and million-dollar houses in Boston’s most afflu­ent sub­urbs, depend­ing on what the patient prefers. “I feel bad for these peo­ple,” said Kool Guy, who described his patients as mostly middle-aged and suf­fer­ing from var­i­ous ail­ments, includ­ing can­cer, AIDS, Parkinson’s dis­ease, chronic pain, and anx­i­ety. Another care­giver who posts on the web­site said he is part of a coöper­a­tive com­posed of a small group of mil­i­tary vet­er­ans who grow mar­i­juana for their med­ical needs and deliver any sur­plus to other patients. “We started out as patients and it wasn’t avail­able, or what was avail­able was steeply over­priced or black mar­ket,” he said, adding that he works a full-time con­struc­tion job and only takes “dona­tions” from other patients to off­set the cost of cul­ti­va­tion. “You are not doing it for profit, you are doing it to help peo­ple,” he said. Tom Bran­des of Phoenix, the admin­is­tra­tor of mar​i​juana​-care​giver​.com, said he launched the site a cou­ple of years ago when med­ical cannabis became legal in Ari­zona, then expanded to other states. Bran­des said he doesn’t charge patients or care­givers to reg­is­ter and post mes­sages. The site does not con­duct back­ground checks and it is up to patients and care­givers to vet each other and fol­low the law, he said. “I’m not going to try to police it; I can’t,” said Bran­des, adding that he can’t keep drug deal­ers from try­ing to infil­trate the site, but enlists mod­er­a­tors to mon­i­tor activ­ity. Down­ing, 55, the owner of Yan­kee Care Givers, said dur­ing a tele­phone inter­view that he is dif­fer­ent from other care­givers on the Inter­net. “I’m the only actual care­giver,” he said. “Those guys are drug deal­ers.” Down­ing said the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health is aware of his busi­ness because he sends it a form signed by each of his patients, des­ig­nat­ing him as their care­giver. He said it is unclear what the depart­ment does with the forms since the state has yet to cre­ate the planned reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem for patients and care­givers. Down­ing said the one-patient limit per care­giver does not apply to him because state reg­u­la­tions say per­sonal care atten­dants are exempt from that rule and his busi­ness is defined as a per­sonal ser­vices com­pany. (Sev­eral other care­givers said in inter­views they should not be lim­ited to one patient because peo­ple shop around and do not stick with one care­giver.) Down­ing, the father of two teenaged boys, said his com­pany is non­profit and he was grow­ing mar­i­juana at his home until police warned him last month that they sus­pected he was going to be robbed and that he was endan­ger­ing his fam­ily. He said police told him they believed his busi­ness was ille­gal, but did not arrest him. Cormier, the Read­ing chief, said he thinks Down­ing is break­ing the law and has repeat­edly asked the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health over the last two months for a writ­ten opin­ion on whether he is. “I am frus­trated with the DPH,” Cormier said. “I believe that there’s a poten­tial loop­hole in terms of the so-called care­giver excep­tion that is being exploited. The frus­tra­tion comes because we need DPH to give us an opin­ion in writ­ing and we have not received it.” Cormier said his depart­ment received numer­ous com­plaints from neigh­bors about Downing’s brisk busi­ness and he remains under inves­ti­ga­tion. Down­ing said he has relo­cated his busi­ness to an undis­closed site and is buy­ing mar­i­juana from “black mar­ket grow­ers who have been in busi­ness for decades, ser­vic­ing the mar­ket with high, organic qual­ity mar­i­juana … just old hip­pies.” Not every­body finds care­givers online. Scott Mur­phy, a 31-year-old Iraq vet­eran and father of three young chil­dren, said he started using mar­i­juana about two years ago to ease the pain of his degen­er­a­tive arthri­tis. Mur­phy buys tinc­ture, a marijuana-infused oil, from a care­giver he met at a gath­er­ing of mar­i­juana advo­cates. The care­giver process is far bet­ter than buy­ing it off the street, he said, because it’s cheaper and his care­giver sells only prod­ucts that have been lab-tested. “My care­giver switched to a deliv­ery ser­vice that can meet you wher­ever it’s con­ve­nient for you, whether it be your house or another loca­tion,” said Mur­phy, a New­ton res­i­dent who is com­plet­ing his under­grad­u­ate degree, apply­ing to law school, and run­ning a non­profit that pro­motes vet­er­ans’ health issues. Matthew Allen, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Mass­a­chu­setts Patient Advo­cacy Alliance, said he gets calls daily from patients who are seek­ing a med­ical mar­i­juana care­giver, but his orga­ni­za­tion is unable to help them because it does not have a sys­tem to ensure the ser­vices that are spring­ing up are reli­able and com­ply with state law. The alliance is lob­by­ing to change the state reg­u­la­tion restrict­ing care­givers to one patient, and wants to adopt the rules in Rhode Island and Maine, which allow five patients per care­giver. “We do want care­givers to offer this ser­vice, stay­ing within the bound­aries of the law,” Allen said. “But this reg­u­la­tion makes it impos­si­ble to do that even for those with the best inten­tions.” Source: Boston Globe (MA) Author: Shel­ley Mur­phy and Kay Lazar, Globe Staff Pub­lished: May 10, 2014 Copy­right: 2014 Globe News­pa­per Com­pany Con­tact: letter@​globe.​com Web­site: http://​www​.boston​.com/​g​l​o​be/

aa3c8ecf58utdoor.jpg 150x112 Marijuana ‘Caregivers’ Getting Little Oversight

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Mar­i­juana ‘Care­givers’ Get­ting Lit­tle Oversight

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