A medical marijuana dispensary banned patients for posting complaints on Facebook

A medical marijuana dispensary in western Maryland has banned at least four customers because they posted complaints online about pricing or other issues, sparking concern from advocates and potentially violating state rules for the emerging industry.

Joy Strand, the executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, said registered dispensaries have the right to decline marijuana to patients or caregivers if they appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

But other attempts to bar patients could be problematic, she said, especially because in some parts of the state – including Western Maryland – there aren’t other places for would-be customers to go.

“If any dispensaries establish a practice of banning compliant patients, who are registered and certified with the Commission, from receiving medical cannabis treatment in accordance with the requirements of our program, the Commission will be obligated to perform a thorough investigation into that practice and take appropriate enforcement action,”Strand said in an emailedstatement.

Sajal Roy, owner of Allegany Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Cumberland, Maryland, said he has banned four patients for spreading what he deemed to be false or misleading information online, and another who was acting disruptive inside the dispensary. He said he feels justified because those patients can buy cannabis elsewhere, even though the closest dispensaries to his are in Frederick, about 90 miles away.

“There’s plenty of other dispensaries, and access is not a question,” Roy said. “I think on some level in today’s society we baby everyone, and we coddle everyone. There are repercussions for what you do.”

Two patients he put on a do-not-serve list in January and February were allowed back into the dispensary after apologizing for their critical posts. Roy said the patient who was disruptive also has been allowed back in, but two others remained on the banned list as of March.

Kelly Robertson, founder of the Western Maryland Medicinal Marijuana Patients Alliance, said banning patients is wrong because it limits access to medication and creates a particular burden for those with low incomes who may not have the resources to travel across the state.

“It really sets the tone with the entire relationship with patients and the dispensary: that they are the authority and they say what goes and if you step out of line, you risk being banned,” Robertson said.

Neil Weigman, 35, uses cannabis to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain. He emailed Roy at the end of January to discuss delivery options, and the conversation turned to pricing. At one point, according to copies of the emails shared with The Washington Post, Roy said cannabis prices were higher in Colorado than in Maryland, which is generally not true.

Weigman then posted on a private Facebook page that is focused on Maryland’s medical marijuana program, accusing Roy of being a liar and saying he was charging too much. Roy later emailed Weigman to say he’d received complaints about the post, and would no longer welcome Weigman at his store.

Weigman apologized to Roy and deleted his Facebook post. “I just kind of kind of just figured, ‘well it’s not worth it.’ Getting my medicine is more important to me right now,” he said.

He said he submitted a complaint to the state cannabis commission but never heard back. Spokeswoman Jennifer White said the commission does not have a record of receiving the complaint.

Dianna Bennett, a resident of Allegany County, said she also was banned after posting on the dispensary’s Facebook page that she thought its prices were too high. She visited the dispensary when it first opened in December and bought an eighth of Ace of Spades for $84.

“I didn’t say anything about [Roy] personally. I just said $84 was too much for an eighth,” said Bennett, who suffers from lupus and receives a monthly $1,200 disability check.

When Bennett went back to the dispensary, she said, an employee told her she had been banned. Bennett then called Roy.

“He never gave me a straight answer. He asked me if I caused a disruption in the dispensary or if I spread false information,” she said, adding that Roy later said he would remove her from the banned list. She has since been able to purchase cannabis there.

Roy said he could not provide details about the other two people he said were banned, except to say they also had posted negative “online harassment.”

Robertson, the marijuana advocate from Western Maryland, recently arranged a meeting at Allegany Medical dispensary with customers and co-owner Greg Pappas, who blamed high prices for cannabis products on heavy demand and limited supply. As of March, prices had somewhat; an eighth of flower now costs $60, according to the dispensary’s Facebook page.

“As more and more growers are bringing product to the market place, we’ll be in a better position to negotiate,” Pappas told customers at the meeting. He also said that the dispensary plans to take a look at how they decide whether to ban patients.

Robertson urged the patients at the meeting to “be positive vocal advocates” for medical marijuana. “If everybody hears complaints, it’s steering patients away in the program altogether,” she said.