A two-month investigation reveals people posing as medical professionals, forging and selling doctors' signatures, and some doctors with restricted medical licenses, are signing medical marijuana applications.
Experts say the forgery and fraud is happening because the state has a huge backlog of applications and cannot examine the documents quickly or carefully enough.
"You can see how that opens up a Pandora's box because patients can just kind of fake paperwork and say they've been to a doctor or whatever and use that to get into the dispensaries," Doctor Phil Nguyen of Happy Clinic Denver said. "They're not legal. It's just some willy-nilly person out there writing all these fake documents."
Nguyen is one of five doctors 9Wants to Know interviewed who has had their signatures copied or forged. Nguyen has seen at least 15 medical marijuana applications from patients he has never examined, yet each has his signature on them.
Medical marijuana applications that include a physician's certification can legally be used to buy marijuana while patients wait for the state to process their paperwork and mail them an actual license.
Nguyen filed a police report against one of his patients after he was notified the man used white-out to cover his name and date of birth and began selling documents to. The Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office has issued an arrest warrant for forgery for Nguyen's former patient, Gregory Johnson.
A patient who did not want her full name used because she works in a courthouse says she bought one of the forged documents from Johnson that bears Nguyen's signature.
"Before we filled out the paperwork, I'm asking him, 'What all do we have to do? You know, are you sure this is legal?' He said, 'Oh yeah, this is legal. I work for the doctor, the doctor's on board with this,'" said Jessica who bought the documents in March.
Jessica says she used the bogus paperwork to buy medical marijuana at six dispensaries across Denver until one of them in May noticed something was wrong and called the doctor.
Johnson could not be reached for comment. But his mother says she watched him sell the documents out of her home.
"He said, 'I license people for medical marijuana for a doctor,'" his mother Wilsie Johnson said.
Another patient, David Norris, said he bought medical marijuana documents from a woman out of an apartment complex. Norris told 9Wants to Know the woman claimed to be a doctor and was African-American.
The doctor's name on the documents was Rita Starritt. She is a legitimate doctor but she is not black, she is white and says she has never seen Norris before.
Starritt has discovered a half dozen other patients were using her signature with out her permission on their medical marijuana cards.
9Wants to Know also talked to the owner of the Blue Sky Care clinic. They used a doctor to examine a hundred patients only to learn later his medical license has been restricted by the Board of Medical Examiners. He no longer has permission to write prescriptions.
All the patients we talked to who purchased fraudulent documents say they used the paper work to buy medical marijuana with no questions asked. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told 9Wants to Know the fraud is happening because of a backlog of applications.
Hyman says the state receives 5,000 new applications every week. It will be six months or more before applications sent in this week will be processed.
In the mean time, patients are instructed to use copies of their application to buy medical marijuana.
"Of course we would like to have the backlog resolved and we are working very hard to achieve that," Hyman said.
The state is hiring 25 new employees and developing a new computer system to speed up the process. He admits it could be a year before they catch up with the applications already received by their office.
"When we are caught up, I feel like it will be more difficult for the bad players to get away with it," Hyman said.
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