N.H. medical marijuana classes linked to problematic Montana Caregivers Network
The ads are everywhere, if you know where to look.
They’re on Craigslist and on a series of connected pro-medical marijuana websites aimed at New Hampshire residents, promoting classes for patients seeking medical marijuana registration cards.
“Get the Card + Get Legal,” an ad reads. “Marijuana is Safe + Effective Treatment for . . . seizures, anxiety, bipolar . . . PTSD . . . Leg, Back, Shoulder, Abdomen (any other) pain.”
While that might be true, New Hampshire’s new medical marijuana law doesn’t say any of those conditions qualify a patient to use the drug. And the cards the ads are promising don’t yet exist. In fact, the state has yet to set the rules that define how patients can apply for them, and the attorney general has recommended not distributing them until dispensaries are licensed, meaning no one will be able to get a card until 2015, or later.
The New Hampshire Medical Cannabis Association site, one site where a version of the ad appeared, was until earlier this month registered to the Montana Caregivers Network. That group actively courted controversy during that state’s contentious experiment with medical marijuana in 2010.
A man going by the name Jay Leherif heavily promotes the classes, also referring to them as clinics, on Facebook, which is where Jeff Vachon of Franklin first read about them.
After talking to Vachon on Skype recently and connecting him with a nurse on the video conferencing program, Leherif asked for $268 to qualify Vachon for a patient registration card in July.
Hearing from friends that the state isn’t issuing the cards that quickly and hasn’t even finished the rules for how patients will get cards, Vachon cut off contact.
When the Monitor called the number in the ads that promise patients cards in July, Jay, who would only give his first name, answered and referred the call to another number, a cell phone with a Los Angeles area code.
Reached later on the cell phone, Jay would not say how much the classes cost, how many people had signed up since he started advertising them in January, or what, specifically, people would learn. He would not say which organization produced the curriculum, or whether the class tells people about the attorney general’s ruling that cards shouldn’t be issued in July.
“I don’t know if it’s fraud, but the question is, would you send a bunch of money to someone that wouldn’t answer anything like that?” said Tuftonboro police Chief Andrew Shagoury.
Jay’s cell phone number matched the number used to register the New Hampshire Medical Cannabis Association website when the site’s owner was still listed as Montana Caregivers Network.
Montana Caregivers Network was founded in 2010 by a man named Jason Christ (rhymes with “wrist,” according to Missoulian, a Montana newspaper.)
Shown a news photo of Christ from 2011, Vachon said he thought it was the same man as the Jay Leherif he spoke with on Skype last week.
Christ has no listed phone number; messages at the numbers advertised for Montana Caregivers Network were not returned; and he did not respond to messages through Facebook.
In June, he was sentenced to eight years of probation after being convicted of intimidation for threatening to blow up a Verizon store in 2011. The Montana Department of Corrections could not provide details on the conditions of his probation.
His prisoner identification page lists four known aliases – Jason Gibson, Jason Lehrfeld, Jason Christlehrfeld and Jason Gibson-Christ. None has a listed phone number.
Christ’s Montana network connected people to doctors or nurses authorized to prescribe medical marijuana, usually over Skype. The network also used traveling “cannabis caravans” where doctors set up shop at a hotel and could sign up hundreds of patients in a few hours.
One Billings, Mont., reporter wrote about her Montana Caregivers Network experience: During the eight-minute video conference, she never had to describe the back pain she claimed or provide her medical records. The doctor on the screen didn’t allow her to ask questions and suggested she find “a stable caregiver,” one of the people who “have been growing marijuana illegally for years and have a lot of knowledge about it medically.”
Hearing that Christ of the Montana Caregivers Network might be connected to the classes, Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, became visibly unsettled.
“From the very beginning, we have said to legislators that we want to pass a law that everybody in New Hampshire looks back on in five years and says we are so glad we did this,” Simon said.
“Montana is the one state where that didn’t necessarily happen, for a variety of reasons. The No. 1 reason may well have been Jason Christ himself.”
In 2004, Montana voters legalized marijuana for medical use in a referendum vote. Five years later, slightly more than 7,300 people had cards certifying them as qualified patients.
Christ and the Montana Caregivers Network first appeared in newspapers in that state in January 2010, offering a “doctor patient clinic/class” about medical marijuana.
By the end of that year, more than 27,000 people had patient cards. In 2011, the state legislature passed laws tightly constricting the industry.
Patients and the state are still fighting in court over the new restrictions.
The phone number and other registration information for the New Hampshire Medical Cannabis Association website changed within hours of the Monitor’s conversation with Jay.
The site is now registered to “1234 anystreet” in Keene.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)