Medical marijuana advocates warn patients about schemes promising legal marijuana, doctor recommendations

By Jackie Borchardt,

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Medical marijuana advocates say Ohio patients should be cautious of schemes promising patients a legal way to obtain marijuana before state-licensed dispensaries open here.

Ohio’s medical marijuana law went into effect last week, but state officials have two years to set up the program. Until then, it’s unknown how patients caught with marijuana will be treated under the law.

One Facebook post promises that, for $150, patients can get a Michigan medical marijuana card and a trip to buy marijuana there. Another offers to connect patients with marijuana-friendly Ohio doctors who will write them notes that can be used as a defense in court against possession charges, at a cost of $250.

Neither is a safe bet, advocates warn, though in the absence of details from state officials, many patients feel they have no choice.

Aaron Marshall, spokesman for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, said patients should watch out for scammers looking to make a quick buck off their illnesses. He said patients should instead talk to their current doctors but noted not many are eager to provide a medical marijuana recommendation right now.

What does the new law allow? 

Ohio’s medical marijuana law sets up a framework for a highly regulated program where patients with about 20 qualifying medical conditions can buy and use marijuana if recommended by a licensed physician who is certified to do so.

The details, however, were left to three regulatory agencies to work out over the next year.

Meanwhile patients can could assert an “affirmative defense” against prosecution for using medical marijuana if they got their doctors’ written permission.

The law grants doctors who recommend or discuss marijuana with patients immunity from civil and criminal litigation as well as board discipline. But it also requires doctors to become certified by the board before recommending marijuana.

Doctors have been hesitant to sign off on affirmative defense notes because the state medical board has yet to issue guidance on the issue.

Board spokeswoman Tessie Pollock said the board will release its interpretation of the law later this month.

Marshall said the law clearly allows doctors to recommend marijuana before becoming certified for the purposes of the affirmative defense, and the medical board’s delay hurts patients who want to abide by the law.

“Patients shouldn’t be treated like criminals while we wait for the medical board to get off square one,” Marshall said.

He said the emergence of medical marijuana referral businesses shows why the state needs to provide clear guidance on the law.

What should patients watch out for? 

Brad White, a spokesman for patient advocacy group United Ohio, said there are real risks, if not problems, with the various marijuana services being offered.

For starters, he said, obtaining a Michigan patient ID card would involve lying to the bureau of motor vehicles there about where you live. Transporting marijuana out of a legal state violates federal law. And affirmative defense notes obtained before the medical board issues guidance may not hold up in court.

“There are some people willing to break the law because they believe it’s worth it and that crossing the border is relatively low risk and that’s their choice to believe it,” White said. “There’s no way in my mind that any patient should feel secure with medical marijuana in Ohio right now.”

The Ohio attorney general’s office has not heard any complaints about marijuana businesses, but spokeswoman Kate Hanson said people may be less likely to report being scammed while trying to skirt the law.

Hanson said, generally, the following red flags indicate a scam:

  • Demanding payment via wire transfer or gift card.
  • Making claims that are not factually accurate or promising something that is not realistic.
  • Pressuring the consumer to make a decision right away.
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