BY ALLISON STEIN
A new Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) sting operation on unlicensed medical cannabis delivery companies got under way the 1st week of September.
The story broke early September 14th, almost a full week later. On Sept 5th, MCSO encountered multiple illegal cannabis distribution operations, willing to break the laws to deliver medical marijuana. MCSO undercover officers, posing as medical cannabis patients, used the Weedmaps app to order unlicensed medical cannabis products from a home in south Scottsdale. Delivery drivers then transported the illicit cannabis to the undercover agents in exchange for a cash “donation.” As a result of the “cash-for-cannabis” transaction, the undercover officers proceeded to move in on the “drug dealers” and made their arrests.
Sheriff Paul Penzone told AZ Family, “There’s no entrapment whatsoever. If you’re actively involved in distributing drugs unlawfully, and then you’re bringing that to a door that you know to be unlawful—then that’s on you.”
It’s reported that 9 of the 14 people arrested from the September 5th sting had no prior convictions showing in the Maricopa County Superior Court system. It suggests that the unlicensed medical cannabis companies that were on Weedmaps did not background checks on their employees. Yet almost all 14 were charged with conspiracy, narcotic drug transportation and/or sales, and other cannabis violations.
Even though uncover cops pretending to be medical patients is not new, this set of arrests brings up new questions. Several news reports claim that the sting was only conducted on “unlicensed” delivery services, according to Jared Oursler head of security and delivery for DOMM (Delivery of Medical Marijuana), DOMM received an odd amount of incomplete deliveries the same day of the sting.
Also known as the Hemp Wellness Center, DOMM contracts with various PHX-area dispensaries to provide patients that are immobilized due to health conditions ranging from cancer, PTSD, seizures and chronic pain, some relief without having to leave the house or find a ride to a dispensary. This keeps patients that shouldn’t be driving at home where it is safe, not out in uncomfortable public situations, and safe from scenarios that could cause a panic attack or seizure.
With DOMM’s high profile delivery services representing the backbone of the business’ revenue, Oursler explains, DOMM has too much at stake to ever risk making illegal deliveries. DOMM has strict policies in place to ensure the legal safety of their drivers.
As Oursler stated, “I would rather have my drivers safe and not in jail than to cutting corners to make a sale.” So, why were so many of their orders left incomplete that day?
The Canceled Transactions Were Unusually High
Properly operated, there is little difference between the dispensing policies of a dispensary and DOMM. The first-time patients visiting a new dispensary typically takes longer because the dispensary has to collect important information such as copies of your state-issued license/ID and a copy of your state-issued medical cannabis card along with other personal information.
This is needed to ensure the authenticity of the patient. It’s also needed to track the patient allotment through a medical cannabis patient ID or number within a 14-day allotment cycle. DOMM, for example, will not even acknowledge your existence until they have a picture of your Arizona driver’s license or state ID and your medical cannabis card. This is something the unlicensed delivery services more than likely were not doing and might have been a trigger for MCSO’s September sting.
Still, Oursler remembers that Thursday, September 5th, and recalls the number of undelivered, incomplete or canceled transactions was unusually high, almost double the average number that day. Oursler could not go into further detail because exchanges between DOMM drivers and patients are covered by HIPPA and cannot be fully disclosed.
But there were a few things didn’t add up to Oursler. One glaring red flag is a card that is about to expire but has no wear to it at all.
Even if the specifics of the arrests were all legitimate, there are several questions still left unanswered:
- Did these undercover officers physically qualify to be issued their patient cards?
- If so, where did these officers obtain their medical cannabis cards?
- If so, are medical cannabis doctors unknowingly issuing cards to officers or is AZDHS issuing the cards knowingly to cops?
- Who is paying for the card cost?
- Does the cost come out of the taxpayers’ pockets?
- Is AZDHS covering the cost of undercover officers’ cards, or is there some kind of reimbursement program between AZDHS and MCSO?
- If AZDHS is reimbursing MCSO for the cost medical cannabis cards, is the funding coming from the money sick patients have already paid?
We may never know. Both MCSO and AZDHS have not replied to requests for comment. Check back for more updates as the story unfolds.
–Allison Stein writes for Arizona Cannabis News.