DENVER – The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has generated millions of dollars from medical marijuana registrants, but failed to regulate and monitor caregivers and physicians to ensure the drug is dispensed to patients – and not recreational pot users, according to state auditors.
The audit, presented Monday to the Legislative Audit Committee, revealed that 12 physicians had recommended half of the 108,656 patients who have been issued “red cards” to purchase medical marijuana.
One physician recommended 8,400 patients for medical marijuana. Yet, the auditors cited a study that reported the average doctor in United States cares for 2,300 patients.
A couple of doctors recommended excessive amounts of marijuana for patients. Instead of an average six marijuana plants per patient, one physician recommended 501 plants. In another case, the physician prescribed 75 ounces for a patient instead of two ounces.
The auditors also found several doctors advertising their services on websites – and making false claims in violation of the laws regulating medical marijuana.
Despite these red flags, the department has not referred any doctors to the Colorado Medical Board for investigation since 2011.
One doctor was investigated for recommending medical marijuana patients without performing a physical examination in 2010. The department reported five physicians because they had made exorbitant numbers of medical marijuana recommendations in 2011.
Karin McGowan, interim director of the Department of Public Health and Environment, said it’s very difficult to ascertain whether some physicians have a high number of patients because they simply specialize in medical marijuana care or if they’re acting inappropriately.
“What we normally do and what we’re good at, and what we’re normally authorized to do, is to oversee facilities – not people,” said McGowan.
She also said the department has no means of investigating doctors to ensure they are not involved in illegal activities, such as having financial ties or interest in medical marijuana businesses.
The audit also criticized the department for failing to assess and monitor caregivers who are authorized to supply marijuana. Caregivers, age 18 and older, are also required to assist patients in their daily lives.
In March, auditors faulted the state Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division for mismanagement and failing to regulate dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The department will oversee recreational marijuana which voters approved under Amendment 64 last November.