Scott and Marsha Yandell were growing 40 pounds of pot in a rented house in St. Augustine — but they were surprised to be arrested, because they had “patient ID cards” they thought allowed them to grow and sell weed for medical reasons. The card was issued to them by a Jacksonville company called Health Law Services, run by attorney Ian Christensen.
On its website, Health Law Services claims that “Florida law currently allows the use of cannabis as a medicine based on a doctor’s order.”
Florida law defines cannabis as a schedule I drug, possession of which is a felony.
But the Health Law Services site points out that Florida statutes also state that “a person may not be in actual or constructive possession of a controlled substance unless such controlled substance was lawfully obtained from a practitioner.”
The site describes prior cases: In 1991, an appeals court tossed a pot conviction against a couple with AIDS who used medical marijuana out of “medical necessity,” and in 2013, Manatee County prosecutors declined to charge Robert Jordan, who was growing pot for his wife, Cathy, who suffered from ALS. The site recommends that people looking for a physician to write a prescription look to a Fort Myers company called the Cannabinoid Therapy Institute.
Michael Minardi is a West Palm Beach attorney who in March won a landmark case that successfully used medical necessity as a defense for pot charges against his client, Jesse Teplicki. He says that medical necessity is not a slam-dunk defense and that Christensen is wrongly advising clients.
Minardi is representing the Yandells against charges of cultivation, manufacturing, and trafficking cannabis.
He says they paid $700 for a doctor’s examination, medical ID cards, and a letter stating they were legally allowed to grow cannabis for medicinal purposes.
With serious drug charges looming over them, Scott was fired from his job at Verizon, while Marsha lost her job as a registered nurse. According to Minardi, the Yandells had “no motivation to jeopardize their entire lives unless they thought what they were doing was completely legal.”
“They’re victims, not criminals,” Minardi tells New Times. “An attorney has an ethical obligation to advise their clients the right way. They were given negligent advice through a medical necessity defense that, frankly, does more harm than good.”
Last year, voters failed to pass Amendment 2, an initiative that would have made medical marijuana legal in the state constitution.
Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, which pushed that ballot initiative and hopes to get it on the ballot again in 2016, tells New Times that any companies issuing patient ID cards or medical marijuana “licenses” are scams and that they’re making it tougher for his group to get medical marijuana taken seriously.
“It’s a scam,” Pollara says. “These guys were supporters of us early on in the campaign and then at one point just decided, ‘Oh, shit, pot is already legal here’ and ran with it.”
Minardi says other companies, like a Jacksonville company called Cannabis University of Florida, are walking a shaky line by advising people that there are ways to legally grow marijuana.
“[Health Law Services] is continuing with this practice and still issuing cards,” Minardi says. “And it causes a severe issue. It’s sending the wrong message.”
Christensen is listed in good standing with the Florida Bar. He did not return a call for comment.