‘Fast and loose’: Fake medical marijuana patient certifications spotlight gaps in Missouri rules – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Legal marijuana growing in Missouri

A strain of marijuana called Power Plant is photographed on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, at the University City home of a grower who is cultivating in his basement legally for personal use. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — A St. Louis company that says it approved thousands of medical marijuana patients is at the center of a state investigation into about 600 fake certifications.

Officials with the Department of Health and Senior Services and the attorney general’s office haven’t said whether they believe Lou Moynihan, 33, who was instrumental in the launch of the company WeedCerts last year, knew or participated in the fraudulent activity, which the state believes occurred through telemedicine visits.

In a June 22 Facebook post signed by Moynihan, days after the state announced its investigation, WeedCerts said it had alerted the state to the potential fraud in May.

The post denied any “fraudulent” activity, but in a subsequent unsigned post, WeedCerts said it got “too fast and loose” with the certification process and that it was “not so innocent.”

In a June 27 post, it said “we thought that we were working with Dr. Allison Medlin and certifying patients through her. That was not the case.”

With hundreds of patients now scrambling to get recertified, the integrity of Missouri’s medical marijuana patient-approval process is in question, suggesting the possibility of other lapses that could leave physicians and patients vulnerable to similar scams.

In this case, the state has said someone improperly used a physician’s name and credentials on the applications in question. A state spokeswoman said investigators had no indication the doctor knew someone was using her information to sign up patients.

Medlin, the Independence, Missouri, family physician identified by the WeedCerts post and whose signature was used on the 600 applications, said she is “extremely disappointed that any company or individual would fraudulently use my signature.”

She said she only learned someone used her signature when a WeedCerts patient called asking for her medical records.

“When I learned of this, I immediately notified authorities who initiated an investigation. I look forward to a timely resolution,” Medlin said in a statement. 

Director meets Moynihan

Moynihan, who said in the Facebook post he had alerted the state to the fraud, did not respond to numerous requests for comment. No company named “WeedCerts” appears to be registered with the Missouri secretary of state.

An undated posting at weedcerts.com offers a fuller explanation of what Moynihan says happened, including a statement that the company is now defunct. It also chides state officials for “preventing us from taking care of this.”

Lyndall Fraker, director of the state’s medical marijuana program, said he met with Moynihan at a cannabis event in June 2019 in St. Louis. 

“Lou was kind of a friendly, kind of a boisterous guy that you know, (he was a) never-met-a-stranger type person,” Fraker said. “That’s why I remember him because he was always friendly and would seek me out if there was events. And he’s not the only one, as you can imagine. Many did.”

Fraker said he never met with Moynihan privately in a one-on-one setting.

Kyle Kisner, who said he worked at four or five of Moynihan’s certification events in late 2019, said Moynihan “tries to build people up … but he’s really just trying to get you to put more confidence in him. It’s all part of his strategy to, like, manipulate.”

Court records show Moynihan, of St. Louis, pleaded guilty in May 2013 to felony attempted burglary and misdemeanor theft, and he was sentenced to two years of probation.

Karen Pojmann, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said Moynihan served three stints in state custody between 2012 and 2015, before being released on parole in 2015. He has since been released from supervision, she said.

Doctors aren’t tracked

Unlike other states, regulators in Missouri don’t track how many certifications doctors are issuing, meaning there are no computer-generated notifications when one doctor signs off on hundreds or thousands of certifications. Missouri also doesn’t track which company is paying the doctor.

WeedCerts has said on Facebook it certified thousands of patients, but because the state doesn’t track doctors, or for whom the doctors are working, there is no way to know how many patients a single company is responsible for approving, said Lisa Cox, spokeswoman for DHSS.

Cox said the department has conducted random checks of the state’s more than 50,000 certifications, calling physicians to make sure they actually certified a patient. She also said staff can notice patterns when going through patient forms by hand.

Asked if current problems could have been avoided if the state tracked physicians, their employers and certifying patterns, Fraker, director of the medical marijuana program, said: “I haven’t really — I haven’t really thought about that.”

He said the state’s certitication process is doctor-centered, meaning physicians who lie about whether a patient actually qualifies for a cannabis ID card risk their license.

But in this case, an imposter appears to have certified patients, not a physician.

“You know, there’s obviously an element of trust here that has been breached,” Fraker said. “We’ll find out what’s going on.”

The Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, whose members have a financial interest in approving as many patients as possible, have said in the past that compiling such data on physicians was unnecessary. 

‘Don’t overpay’

Moynihan in January shared a WeedCerts Facebook post advertising certifications for $50, a much lower price than other clinics, which can charge more than $100. “Don’t overpay to get in!” the post said.

Dr. Lisa Roark, owner of Roark Family Health in Cassville in southwest Missouri, said she didn’t think WeedCerts could survive long-term by only selling certifications for $50.

With all of her overhead, including medical malpractice insurance, charging any less than $100 per visit wouldn’t be worth the time and risk for her, she said.

Roark offered to recertify the defrauded patients for free. She said Thursday she had recertified 50 of the roughly 600 patients. 

She said defrauded patients told her they waited their turn at a WeedCerts “patient event,” sat down and were given a headset.

“They spoke to a woman on the phone who identified herself as a doctor,” Roark said. “They paid WeedCerts and then were given a certification form with a physician signature on it.”

Individuals can look up a physician’s license number and contact information on a state website. That same information is required on a patient certification form.

While Roark said the public should be able to check a physician’s credentials, she said the availability of the information leaves doctors vulnerable to identity theft.

She said physicians certifying medical marijuana patients should be able to register with the state “so there’s no question about licenses being used fraudulently.”

Roark said another problem is that when patients leave their physician’s office, the certification they take with them includes the doctor’s identifying information and license number.

She said a patient fraudulently used her information to apply for work accommodations through the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“I did their (marijuana) certification and then they used all of my information to try to restrict their work,” Roark said.

She said doctors should be in charge of sending certification paperwork to the state, not patients.

“I would love to just be able to upload it directly to DHSS instead of putting the patient in charge of it,” she said. “I’d rather not have every patient in the state with my signatures, my license number and all of my office contact information.”

Telehealth legislation

Rep. Jonathan Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, sponsored legislation this year requiring in-person doctor visits for medical marijuana patient certifications.

Patterson, a general surgeon, said he now supports allowing telehealth visits because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said House Bill 1682, which is sitting on Gov. Mike Parson’s desk, explicitly applying existing telehealth rules to medical marijuana certifications.

Missouri law says telehealth technology “shall be sufficient to establish an informed diagnosis as though the medical interview and physical examination has been performed in person.”

And, Patterson said, “a phone survey does not qualify.”

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