By Jay Greene
When the Mobile Doctors of America’s shiny, refurbed ’68 Airstream trailer pulls up in front of local medical marijuana centers, most people think it’s looking for directions to the nearest tailgate party. But no, it’s not lost on its way to the Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Instead, it’s an integral part of the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America’s (MMAPA) mission to help hospice patients, disabled veterans and indigent patients get access at little to no cost.
Sure, it makes it to parties, too. Many spotted MMAPA at last year’s Four Mile Canyon Revival concert headlined by String Cheese Incident, amongst others. And while we all love a good show, MMAPA’s Executive Director Vincent Palazzotto notes the group is “out six to seven days a week, with about half of our time spent along the Front Range and the other half in rural areas.” Most weeks it must feel like they’re the ones on tour.
With only a dozen staff members and volunteers to manage over 200 patients and 35 providers, time and resources are precious. Very few physicians offer discounted evaluations for patients in dire need, let alone free referrals. MMAPA realized quickly that it needed a more efficient way to serve Colorado.
A revamped site–to be launched this month–should help shoulder some of the load. “Patients will be able to apply right on the site,” says Palazzotto, enabling dispensaries to provide patients with “exactly what they’re looking for.”
Another key function of the site is coordinating volunteer efforts. Those looking to help can not only choose what hours they’re available to assist MMAPA, but which areas are the most convenient for them to reach. “It’s a nice opportunity for those looking to break into the industry and really become entwined with everyone from patients to growers to anybody who’s anybody in the business,” says Palazzotto.
It’s hard to argue with MMAPA’s reach. It’s taken to politics like a pro, lobbying successfully to establish an indigency waiver for those who meet or exceed 180 percent of the federal poverty level. Those patients are no longer required to pay the $90 registration fee to the state or any sales tax on MMJ purchases. The legislature also pushed through an exception to the “no freebies” rule for medical marijuana centers, allowing those who need free meds the most to receive them legally. MMAPA’s work is hardly done, however.
Though the group suspects that the next legislative session will be dominated by talk of a THC/DUI bill, MMAPA has three issues it wants pushed to the forefront. The core issue at stake is the allocation of excess funds generated by the state registry system. Former Governor Bill Ritter made headlines when he swiped $9 million from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) coffers last year.
MMAPA wants to put those dollars back to use for MMJ patients, aiming to establish research and development grants for private companies, a 24/7 hotline for patient questions, and some key information they believe patients aren’t receiving.
“Every patient should receive a pamphlet,” says Palazzotto. “When you sign up, you should get the facts about alternative treatment and what your options are.”
And MMAPA has taken its collective show on the road to Arizona, it’s this kind of advocacy for Colorado patients that makes it one of the most respected industry groups in the state.
Live From Colorado!?
MMAPA must be doing something right if the group is being skewered by Saturday Night Live, right? Earlier this year, an SNL “Weekend Update” segment described MMAPA’s activities as “a guy selling weed out of a trailer.” MMAPA founder Vincent Palazzotto took the ribbing good-naturedly, corrected the skit’s errors (“MMAPA’s physicians do not, under any circumstances, distribute medical marijuana”) and responded: “So, while we appreciate the humor SNL has brought to this discussion, we hope people across America take this opportunity to expand the dialogue over medical marijuana while focusing our attention where the debate begins–with patients.”