Where there’s no smoke, there are scams: the Florida Legislature’s failure this month to reach agreement on implementation of a voter-approved constitutional amendment to make medical marijuana accessible to qualifying patients is prolonging uncertainty about the permissible and the banned and creating unintended vacuums that scammers have been quick to fill.
The scams have spread wide enough to cause the state Department of Health to intervene with warnings.. And now, according to Palm Coast government officials, the scams are trying to lure Palm Coast residents with false promises of “marijuana licenses.”
“Signs for legal weed have been popping up all over Palm Coast Florida,” Jay Maher, the city’s business tax receipts supervisor, wrote the state Attorney General, referring to a yard signs that have appeared in town, announcing “LEGAL WEED” for a $199 office visit (see the picture below.)
Maher called the number. “For $199.00 and $10.00 a month they will issue me a Marijuana License,” he wrote. “But first I need to provide them my drivers
license number and a credit card. I think it is pretty clear that it is a scam.”
It is: Only the state Office of Compassionate Use may legally issue identification cards for medical pot in the state. It has no third-party contractors. It does not even accept credit cards as a form of payment currently.
In Flagler County, only two physicians are currently on the Office of Compassionate Use’s list of physicians qualified to order medical marijuana: Luis Galano-Lavin on Round Tree Drive in Palm Coast, and Michael Sandborn at 9 Pine Cone Drive in Palm Coast.
Maher only got back a form letter from the office of Pam Bondi, the attorney general that has clearly been crafted to address recurring issues related to the confusion over medical marijuana’s status in the state: the office directed Maher to contact either the Office of Compassionate Use or the State Department of Health, which oversees the office.
Mayor Milissa Holland brought up the issue of the signs at this morning’s Palm Coast City Council meeting, wondering if the city had a plan beyond just taking them down. “We take them down as soon as we see them. It is a scam, it’s not just Palm Coast,” City Manager Jim Landon said, though he did not have information about the people at the origin of the signs. He directed the city’s public information officer to work with the sheriff’s office and issue a release.
“Don’t be taken in with the hope of getting medical marijuana. The only thing you will get is the loss of your money; this is truly smoke and mirrors,” Sheriff Rick Staly is quoted as saying in the release.
“I just would hate that people who actually need medical marijuana and who are suffering to call this number and get scammed by this, knowing that the discussions are going on statewide,” Holland said. “I’ve not seen the signs but I got a call that they’re popping up at several locations.”
Last week negotiations between the Florida House and Senate collapsed when the two sides could not agree on the number of dispensaries that should be available across the state: The Senate wanted a cap of just 10 retail outlets, the House wanted a cap of 100. The Amendment, approved by more than 70 percent of Florida voters, did not call for caps. So any likely rules reverted back to the state Department of Health, which has taken a far more stringent and restrictive approach to the implementation of medical pot allowances in the state.
Numerous local governments–including all of Flagler’s governments, Palm Coast among them–adopted moratoriums on allowing medical-marijuana-related businesses in their jurisdictions, justifying the moratoriums by citing the Legislature’s impending role, and the assumed clarity that was to emerge from the last legislative session, which ended last week. Lawmakers are facing criticism over the failure of the deal, and have considered a special session.
The result has been more rather than less confusion, seeding crops of scammers and opportunists.
The Health Department provides the following tips:
- The department’s Office of Compassionate Use is the only entity issuing identification cards for medical marijuana in Florida. No third party is authorized to process applications. Do not provide credit card information to any third party entity advertising the ability to obtain medical marijuana cards.
- The department does not currently accept credit cards as a form of payment for an Office of Compassionate Use identification card. There is no need to ever provide your credit card information to the department’s Office of Compassionate Use.
- There are seven dispensing organizations authorized to cultivate, process and dispense medical marijuana. These seven are the only businesses in Florida authorized to dispense medical marijuana to qualified patients and legal representatives.
- The Office of Compassionate Use maintains a list of physicians who have completed the required 8 hour education course. To find a qualified ordering physician click here.
To report scams to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services call 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352). To report fraud to the Attorney General’s office call 1-866-966-7226.