Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Agencies' hands tied on medical marijuana

A Fairplay woman who has tied a severely painful rash to her use of
contaminated medical marijuana has raised important issues about the
ability of any state or local agency to take action if bad medical
marijuana is sold.

But is there such a thing as "bad medical marijuana?" According to a
variety of sources, there is indeed a possibility that marijuana
contaminated by mold can cause a host of harmful symptoms.

But Flume inquiries indicate that no local or state agency in has the
authority to do anything about it.

On Feb. 23, Fairplay resident Maureen Shoniker dialed 911 to report that
"she had received a rash from a medical marijuana dispensary," according
to a report from deputy John Burk of the Park County Sheriff's Office.

Burk talked to Shoniker on the phone, and in his report said that her
account was confusing and muddled. He then went to her residence in
Fairplay, and Shoniker told him that she "developed a severe rash from
the new medical marijuana," called Ice, that she had received from her
caregiver, Tammi Castle, according to the report.

Castle operates a medical marijuana dispensary called Kind Mountain at
the Green Door, which is located on Front Street in Fairplay.

Shoniker told The Flume she got the rashes two or three days after
smoking the medical marijuana, and that she called The Flume so that no
one else would be harmed. "No one needs to be suffering like I'm
suffering," she said, noting that her pain was worse than childbirth.

Shoniker, who smokes medical marijuana because of "severe back damage,"
said that the medical marijuana was sticky. "It was really weird
looking. It did not look normal," she said.

Castle denied there was anything wrong with the medical marijuana she
sold to Shoniker, and she said she bought it from another marijuana

"She's had the exact same medicine the whole time she's been my
patient," Castle said.

Shoniker told The Flume that a young man warned Castle to burn her
plants while she was at the dispensary, but Castle said she doesn't grow
medical marijuana except for a few sapling plants and useful marijuana
couldn't be harvested from those.

Those plants are to sell to customers interested in growing their own,
she said.

Shoniker said she sought medical treatment from Fairplay-based physician
Dr. Katherine Fitting.

Fitting, through her office staff, declined to comment for this story.

Whether or not Shoniker did indeed get her rash from medical marijuana
sold by Castle, her case and the inquiries into it have raised
interesting questions about medical marijuana.

Shoniker said she has called local, state and federal agencies, and she
hasn't been successful in getting any action taken.


Burk's report indicates: "I advised [Shoniker] that tainted prescription
drugs are investigated by the Food and Drug Administration/Department of
Health and not by the Sheriff's Office. She again demanded that I arrest
Castle for causing her rash." Burk again advised her to contact the FDA.

However, medical marijuana is illegal under federal law. And it is not
regulated by the FDA, as pointed out by an FDA spokeswoman in a National
Public Radio interview in 2006. (See

Robin Phillips, director of Park County Public Health, said her office
couldn't do anything about Shoniker's complaint, and Phillips sought
help from another Park County department.

She called Tom Eisenman, Park County Development Services coordinator
and director of Environmental Health. Eisenman told The Flume that
because the issue was connected to medical marijuana, he wasn't sure
what could be done until state legislation refines the rules.

"It's up in the air," he said.

Regarding the issue of a possible mold contaminant, the county could
only step in if the mold posed a threat to the public, he said. If there
was mold growing in a public building, it would be a different case, he

Eisenman said there are mechanisms in place that would allow Park County
commissioners to convene as a board of health to classify a building as
an eminent health hazard.

Then steps could be taken requiring the owner to remove the mold.

But if it was a private residence, the county would have no authority to

Eisenman said he has mold -testing kits that he can distribute to
homeowners. In some cases, the county will even pay for the testing to
be done, but it would be up to the homeowner to move on from there.

State level

As far as regulation at the state level, agencies don't seem to know
what to do either.

Mike Saccone, a spokesman for the Office of the Colorado Attorney
General, said the language of Colorado Amendment 20, which legalized
marijuana for medical use, doesn't mention dispensaries, much less
offers guidelines on how to regulate it.

"There is a big gray area out there right now," he said.

He said that's one of the questions Colorado legislators are trying to
deal with regarding the medical marijuana issue.

Saccone then referred questions to Mark Salley, communications director
for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. It
maintains the list of registered medical marijuana users and also
provides patients with medical marijuana registration cards.

But beyond that, the CDPHE doesn't do anything regarding medical
marijuana or dispensaries, said Salley.

"I often tell reporters that I couldn't tell you how many dispensaries
there are," he said. "We don't track dispensaries, and we don't regulate

Can it be harmful

Park County Undersheriff Monte Gore said the deputy followed up on the
call with the Park County Department of Public Health and with a "local

"There's no way that anybody can attribute the symptoms that this person
has as coming from marijuana," he said. "We're not sure if it came from
marijuana or some other source."

He did warn medical marijuana patients about the risks of buying a
product that was essentially unregulated.

"If you're going to buy medical marijuana, buyer beware," he said.

According to several sources on the Internet, marijuana tainted with
mold can cause health problems to those exposed to it.

A 2009 presentation by Jerry Bucklin, chief executive officer of Folsom,
Calif.-based Network Environmental Systems, states that a recent survey
in Canada indicates some law enforcement officials have suffered various
illnesses responding to marijuana, including "headache, nausea,
breathing difficulties, sinus congestion, sinus irritation and skin

Bucklin was out of town and could not be reached by The Flume.

Donald Rothenbaum, senior vide president with NES, said that only a
small percentage of people may get sick when exposed to certain molds
tied to marijuana growth. So it's possible that Shoniker got the rash
while other patients didn't who had the same exposure. And Shoniker's
two- to three-day lag in reaction? "There's always that possibility, but
a rash is not necessarily specific to mold," Rothenbaum said. For
instance, he said, it's also possible the rash could have been produced
by pesticides used to fight spider mites in marijuana growth.

Bucklin's 2009 presentation states that with respect to "cannabis
horticulture," the optimal relative humidity for the growth of marijuana
plants is 60 percent to 70 percent, while the optimal relative humidity
for mold growth is more than 60 percent.

"Marijuana growth has been associated with many types of bacteria and
fungus," says the Bucklin presentation. "Opportunistic pathogens can be
produced with post-harvest and storage of marijuana."

Rashes were among the potential "health effects" listed by Bucklin as a
result of mold amplification that can take place. He noted that
"stachybotrys," which has been "labeled by the media as Black Mold" has
the potential to cause death to highly sensitive individuals and has
been "found in indoor grow operations in Ontario, Canada."

In addition, Atlanta-based BioSign Labs has reported:

"People who have smoked hand rolled cigars and marijuana that was mold
contaminated have reported contracting respiratory fungal infections."


Castle said that she has been a caretaker for Shoniker since November,
and has never had a problem with her until recently.

Castle also denied Shoniker's assertion that she bought Ice marijuana
from Kind Mountain at the Green Door.

She said "Ice" is one of the varieties that she stocks, but Shoniker
never bought that strain of marijuana.

While she doesn't deny that Shoniker might have been stricken with a
rash, Castle said it wasn't from her product.

"I don't know what it was," she said. "It wasn't the medicine."

Castle said none of her other patients are complaining of similar
rashes, and that the marijuana in her store isn't even grown there.

But Rich Sloan, Shoniker's fiancé, said there haven't been any
changes to their home to explain the rash.

And Shoniker told The Flume: "I have no allergies whatsoever."

Castle said she buys from a vendor who runs a separate dispensary, but
declined to identify the source of her marijuana.

She said she does grow marijuana seedlings that she sells to patients
who are interested in growing their own marijuana for personal use, but
she said those plants aren't infected with mold, either.

Castle said she hasn't been visited by any law enforcement officers
regarding Shoniker's claims, but if she was visited by them, she would
comply with any investigation because she has nothing to hide.

She said she believes the retaliation from the rash comes from an
ongoing dispute between Shoniker and her ex-husband, who is dating
Castle's daughter.

Shoniker filed a restraining order on Feb. 22 protecting herself, her
fiancé, and her daughter from her ex-husband.

Castle said that Shoniker's ex-husband was trying to obtain full custody
of their daughter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hm hm.. that's amazing but honestly i have a hard time seeing it... wonder how others think about this..