Last February in Kalispell, Mont., the Montana Caregivers Network signed up between 900 and 1,000 Montanans for the state’s medical cannabis program in a single day. Spokesman Chris Arneson said it was a coordinated effort with five doctors writing recommendations.
Those 1,000 registrants? That’s the equivalent to one-fourteenth of Kalispell’s population.
Jason Christ, executive director of the network, had plans for a similar event in Lansing on June 20. Potential Michigan patients would use the Internet phone service Skype to talk with physicians in Montana and pay $150 for it.
There are conflicting reasons the event was canceled. Christ said there was a bomb threat. Arneson claimed that only a few patients signed up for the event saying, “It didn’t make good business sense to come," and denied any knowledge of threats.
“We will be staying in Montana now to regroup and rethink things,” Arneson said.
Robin Schneider, owner of Capitol City Compassion Club on Michigan Avenue, said she was approached by Christ to house the video screens and computers for Michigan patients to contact Montana doctors. After hearing his proposal, she told him, “Go back to Montana.”
“Michigan is not ready for anything like this. We are working hard to spread the word across the medical marijuana community that it would not be good to participate in an event like this.
“This is a perfect example of someone rolling into town to make oodles and oodles of money. We would not participate in his shenanigans,” she said. Schneider claimed that she, too, received a bomb threat for not allowing the “teleclinic” in her space.
Despite the failed attempt in Lansing, Christ said he has helped between 20 and 60 people in Michigan get recommendations from Montana doctors. He would not say if he spoke to Schneider.
“It’s hard to say. There are a lot of women involved with medical marijuana,” Christ said. He insists he is doing “pay it forwardtype work,” creating efficiencies in a difficult system. He has a background in computer programming and consumes roughly an ounce of the “Jack Herer” strain of cannabis per week to manage pain, he said.
Seven employees have recently quit working for the Montana Caregivers Network, and one disgruntled worker (who asked to remain nameless) said she intends to take legal action against Christ, but did not say why. She was Christ’s executive assistant, she said. She claimed that the Michigan trip was canceled due to low patient turnout.
Christ said people were laid off to “create efficiencies” at the network, and that “things have been wonderful since they left.”
Jim Gingery, executive director of Montana Medical Growers Association, says teleclinics and traveling medical examinations are popular in Montana because it is difficult to find a doctor who will write a recommendation. Montana physicians who receive federal funding to operate community clinics are not allowed to write recommendations for medical cannabis.
“They started out as a necessity,” Gingery said. “A small minority of physicians is recommending a majority of the patients.”
But as Gingery sees it, things started going awry six months ago. As of May 31, 16,255 patients were registered Montana medical cannabis patients. Nearly 11,000 of those patients signed up in the last six months, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Voters in Montana passed a medical cannabis law in 2004, the 10th state to do so.
“It has gone downhill. There is a perception in Montana that patients are being recommended without pre-existing conditions,” said Gingery. “Due to this negative attention, traveling clinics are being all but eliminated. They receive a tremendous amount of support and a tremendous amount of chastising.”
The Montana Board of Medical Examiners recently fined one physician for not providing a thoroughenough investigation of a patient’s condition. Last month, two medical cannabis businesses were firebombed in Billings, Mont.
Montana’s law allows caregivers an unlimited amount of patients and limits both to six plants and up to 1 ounce of usable cannabis. Michigan limits caregivers’ patient-counts to five and allows each up to 12 plants (per patient) and up to 2 1/2 ounces of usable product.
Schneider said she did not let Christ set up his teleclinic at Capitol City Compassion Club because he was scheduling appointments five minutes apart. One Michigan resident called to Schneider to confirm Christ’s appearance and expressed gratitude that he would be able to get a doctor’s recommendation for cannabis to treat his herpes.
“To us, this is not cool,” Schneider said. “When people come to town to try and put on this fiasco, there is no way people in our community will let that go on.”