Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America shuts down
The Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America (MMAPA), an organization that made its reputation by speaking out on behalf of patient rights, is shutting down. Why? Vincent Palazzotto, the man behind the nonprofit, lists a slew of extenuating factors that led to what he stresses was the very difficult decision to leave the industry in favor of a new business that could hardly be more different -- a doggy daycare service.
MMAPA partnered with Mobile Doctors of America, a for-profit enterprise, with the former working to provide discounts for indigent patients and the latter providing medical marijuana evaluations to areas of the state without easy access to MMJ physicians. But Palazzotto says the cost of these efforts continued to rise even as state rules about who could and could not write recommendations became ever more contradictory.
In January, for instance, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began rejecting MMJ recommendations based on examinations conducted by physician assistants -- actions that prompted Palazzotto to lead a protest outside the health department later that month.
Among the many reasons Palazzotto sees the CDPHE's approach as confusing: In November, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) sent a doctor an e-mail confirming that recommendations by physician assistants were perfectly fine. See it below.
Despite this interpretation, the CDPHE rules struck plenty of patients hard, and while the MMAPA tried to fill in the gaps -- "I think we saw 700 to 800 patients for free," Palazzotto says -- continuing to do so proved challenging. "We had ads out for doctors for six months," he points out, "and the one doctor we were using wasn't showing up. It was bad customer service. And then there was a lawsuit [against Mobile Docs] from a patient who felt we were doing something unethical."
Palazzotto leads a January rally at the CDPHE.
Throughout this turmoil, MMAPA kept plugging away, "and I'm glad we didn't close our doors in the midst of that," Palazzotto says. "I feel like we handled 95 percent of patients and were able to get them the information they needed from the CDPHE. But at the end of the day, that cost a lot of money."
Eventually, Palazzotto decided to move on. However, he emphasizes that "I'm really proud to have been in the industry -- really honored. And I learned a lot. I knew nothing about the legislative process before coming in. And I feel like if you turn the history books ahead five or six years, this organization will be seen as a pioneer on the medicinal side."
What's next? Woof in Boots, which Palazzotto describes as "a doggy daycare and boutique that is also a concierge service -- the only service of its kind that I'm aware of. We'll pick up and drop off at all the high-rises downtown in a Mercedes van we just got. We're planning a June 1 launch date."
In the meantime, Palazzotto pays tribute to everyone who supported MMAPA.
"A lot of people worked really hard to make this happen, and we helped turn the focus on the patients," he maintains. "And hopefully people in our legislative bodies, the people who are making decisions, were able to take a step back and understand what it's like to be a patient, and will keep that in mind as they move forward."
Page down to see the aforementioned DORA note about physician assistants and MMJ recommendations.