Mar 12, 2014 12:00 AM by Tom McNamara and Paul Birmingham
Arizona patients bought nearly three tons of medical marijuana last year. That's according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. But, what about the sales of medical marijuana that aren't being reported and tracked?
Arizona dispensaries brought in about $33M in revenue in 2013. That's the official dollar amount. But, as the News 4 Tucson Investigators discovered, there's another marketplace for medical marijuana - the online marketplace.
A simple search on craigslist reveals what we're talking about. Sellers advertising their goods, including different varieties, or strains of marijuana. And, it's all just a few clicks away.
Will Humble, with the Arizona Department of Health Services tells the news 4 Tucson Investigators, these online sellers aren't following state law as it was approved by voters.
"Patients can exchange marijuana with each other, as long they're a qualified patient with a current card, they're allowed to exchange marijuana with each other, as long as nothing of value, other the than the marijuana is exchanged," Humble says.
These online sellers may think they're following the law by asking for donations to pay for marijuana, but Humble says, they're not.
"To me, on its surface, appears to be activity that's not protected by the Arizona Medical Marijuana act," Humble says.
Tucson Police have also been keeping a close eye on the online marketplace, while they won't go into specifics about how they catch cyber-pot sellers, they tell the News 4 Tucson Investigators, it's only a matter of time before the law catches up with their illicit trade.
"It's definitely a bad idea. Before they get involved in anything with the medical marijuana, they should definitely read the statutes thoroughly, not just go off what they're reading on the internet, or what their friends say, but actually read the Arizona Revised Statutes," says Sgt. Chris Dennison.
Dennison also tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, those that are caught face a range of legal consequences.
"People that are selling it could face sales of marijuana charges, distribution of marijuana charges. And the people that are buying it, if they're not actually in possession of medical marijuana cards, they can actually be criminally charged for the possession of marijuana," Dennison says.
Meanwhile, those who sell marijuana legally at dispensaries also tell the News 4 Tucson Investigators, trying to buy marijuana online is a bad idea.
"If you're going online to meet somebody who you've never met before and do a drug transaction, it may be a law enforcement officer, you don't know if it may be somebody trying to do you harm," says Mohit Asnani, with the Downtown Dispensary.
Aside from people selling medical marijuana online via sites like Craigslist or Backpage, there's another issue that has recently come up. Over the past few months, some Arizona dispensaries are taking their business on the road. Setting up with laptops, in parks, and allowing customers to come to them.
"That's not what we intended to happen when we wrote the regulations. And so, we've got some draft regulations that are up for public comment right now, to be a lot more clear about what we expect to see when it comes to deliveries," Humble says.
Dispensary operators say, they're not concerned about the online pot sellers cutting into their business. But, those that do sell without a license are not paying into the system, since they're not paying taxes that ultimately go to the state.
If you have something you'd like the News 4 Tucson Investigators to check out. email us at investigators@ kvoa dot com, or call the News 4 Tucson Investigators tip-line at (520) 955-4444.