Pubdate: Sat, 03 May 2014
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2014 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez
Page: A1


He advertises himself as a medical-marijuana patient offering extra 
high-grade pot "with huge buds" for a "reasonable donation."

The seller's Craigslist ad says those with medical-marijuana cards 
can purchase an ounce of high-quality pot - and get it delivered - 
for $250, about $150 less than what some medical-marijuana 
dispensaries charge, he told The Arizona Republic. For first-time 
customers, he throws in a free 2-gram sample.

He maintains his activities are legal. But they're not: The 
transaction could land him and his buyers behind bars.

While Arizona's medical marijuana program is intended to be "purely 
medicinal," some participants are exploiting the law by reselling 
marijuana they've legally purchased or grown, fueling the illegal 
drug market. Law-enforcement officials, sellers and dispensary owners 
say legal marijuana is being illegally purchased by patients who can 
buy the drug at dispensaries, as well as by those who aren't entitled 
to buy it.

The law allows people to grow, buy and use the drug to treat ailments 
but explicitly bans patients and caregivers from selling the drug to 
each other. But with dispensaries charging as much as $400 per ounce, 
patients, growers and online sellers say participants in the program 
are increasingly turning to the underground market to buy medical 
marijuana at reduced rates.

Even before Arizona voters narrowly approved the medical-marijuana 
law, police and prosecutors warned such a program would spawn illegal 
cultivation and sales of the drug.

"It is frustrating to learn that what we predicted is becoming a 
reality," Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said, noting supporters 
promised the program it would be "tightly regulated" and used only by 
the seriously ill.

"Instead, we now learn that medical marijuana cardholders are selling 
their marijuana on Craigslist."

Ariz. marijuana regulations

Arizona is among 21 states and the District of Columbia that allow 
marijuana use for medicinal or recreational reasons. Arizona voters 
approved it in 2010 for conditions such as chronic pain and cancer. 
The program didn't gain momentum until late 2012, when dispensaries 
began to open.

About 48,000 people participate in the program, overseen by the state 
Department of Health Services. Under the law, some patients can grow 
marijuana and provide some to other patients at no cost. Some 
caregivers can also grow pot for their use and up to five patients.

Most patients cannot legally grow marijuana or do not have a 
caregiver to provide it to them. They are required to buy their 
marijuana at any of the 78 dispensaries operating statewide. They can 
obtain up to 21 ounces every two weeks.

The law forbids patients from exchanging anything of value for 
medical marijuana or buying it outside of the regulated market.

"Two patients that meet each other on Facebook and exchange a strain 
for another is OK," said state health director Will Humble. "If 
someone with a marijuana card is buying it from their dealer ... or 
another patient, that is illegal."

Humble said he routinely hears from local police and the U.S. Drug 
Enforcement Administration that it has become "commonplace" for 
medical marijuana cultivators, their go-betweens and customers to 
sell the drug outside of dispensaries.

It is impossible to measure how often the law is violated, two 
Arizona prosecutors say.

Polk and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said their offices 
don't track the number of cases involving medical marijuana. 
Montgomery says cases often involve the same networks of illegal 
dealers that flourished before legalized medical marijuana.

Jerry Cobb, spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, said 
prosecutors handle "many, many" cases involving the illegal sale and 
possession of medical marijuana from street corners to "compassion 
clubs" and even online sales.

"In some cases it's people who we suspect just genuinely don't know 
they can't do it ... and in some cases it's some people who are using 
the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act as a shield to do drug deals," he said.

State health officials have revoked the medical marijuana cards of 10 
patients because they were illegally selling the drug, said Esther 
Carranza, a legal liaison for the health department's card-registry office.

Controversy over reports

Medical-marijuana advocates like Chris Lindsey of the Marijuana 
Policy Project said the reports of illegal activity are overblown.

"It doesn't appear to be an epidemic," said Lindsey, a legislative 
analyst. "It occurs, but there's no sign that medical-marijuana sales 
fuel underground market sales."

California, Colorado and other states with medical-marijuana laws 
similar to Arizona's have participants who have illicitly bought, 
sold and shipped the pot out of state.

A 2012 Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking area report 
recorded dozens of instances in which pot grown for patients in 
Colorado was transported to Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Tennessee, 
Iowa, Florida and Wyoming.

In some instances, high-grade pot was intercepted by highway-patrol 
officers, who reported the drivers said they bought as much marijuana 
from dispensaries as they possibly could, or that they bought the pot 
"out of the back door" of a Colorado dispensary. Colorado has 
legalized marijuana for recreational use but the medical program 
remains in place.

In other instances documented in the report, law enforcement 
intercepted shipments of pot through a parcel service and pulled over 
another driver who said she stands outside of dispensaries and asks 
people to buy her marijuana. Licensed patients were caught selling 
their medicine, giving it to others (including children) and 
supplying a boyfriend, who then sold it.

The findings "support the premise that Colorado's regulations are not 
working and marijuana is being diverted by patients, caregivers and 
dispensaries through a variety of different techniques," including 
Craigslist, the report said.

"Part of the reason (medical-marijuana laws) started was to eliminate 
the black market - but they've become the black market," said Tom 
Gorman, director of Rocky Mountain HIDTA. "If you're seeing it in 
Colorado, you're seeing it in Arizona."

One medical-marijuana patient contacted by The Republic through his 
Craigslist ad said he sells extra marijuana to other patients - 
primarily veterans - who can't afford their medicine.

He said he was unaware it is illegal to sell to other patients. He 
sells an ounce for about $100 less than dispensaries. His prices are 
lower because he doesn't pay state fees or taxes that dispensaries must pay.

That irks dispensary owner Bill Myer, who said his Glendale 
operation, Arizona Organix, has paid more than $300,000 in taxes.

"There are farmer's markets you can go buy it at, delivery services, 
guys standing on street corners, Craigslist," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom