ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- A local doctor is qualifying patients for medical marijuana licenses without meeting them in person for a service advertised at $200.
According to Dr. Zinia Thomas, she’s signed up “thousands” of people for Missouri’s new medical marijuana card which requires a doctor’s certification.
In a News 4 investigation, the doctor even qualified a News 4 producer over the internet.
Investigative reporter Chris Nagus asked the doctor how he determines whether a patient is being truthful, and discovered a few things the doctor doesn't want to talk about.
News 4 began investigating after seeing a flyer at a local farmers market. It said an appointment could be scheduled at mogreencare.com. There were no names and no phone numbers.
Using the information on the flyer, a News 4 producer scheduled an appointment for an online meeting. On the other end of the internet connection was Dr. Michael Zahra. For $199.99, he schedules an online appointment to get people signed up for a medical marijuana card.
He said to our producer, "I can certify you for marijuana. Do you know what your qualifying condition is?"
Our producer said she had knee pain from childhood, which is true. She gets around just fine, but sometimes she says there's a little pain.
Doctor Zahra responded, "Well, chronic pain is one of the qualifying conditions. That should be no problem."
Without reviewing any medical records from our producer's doctors, he gave her the green light and qualified her for a license. News 4 called the doctor to ask him about the process and he agreed to sit down with us.
We brought up the online consultation with our News 4 producer, pointing out that it lasted only a minute.
Chris Nagus: "Is that typical?"
Dr. Zahra: "It depends on if the patient has a lot of questions."
Dr. Zahra isn't the only doctor signing up patients.
A News 4 investigation in September showed the so-called "cannabus tour" by local doctor, Zinia Thomas. During a stop at new age shop in Festus, people paid $100 to see the doctor. Dr. Thomas signed people up in large groups, sometimes a dozen at a time, after filling out a short questionnaire.
In once case, a News 4 producer was told what score he needed to achieve to get qualified. People who were approved left with paperwork stating they suffer from a debilitating psychiatric disorder. Dr. Thomas did not perform one-on-one exams, and did not talk to every patient.
In the case of Dr. Zahra, he did speak directly to the patient, but not in the same room. The meeting with our News 4 producer was over Skype.
Chris Nagus: "How do you know the person has the condition they are describing over the internet when you're not able to see them and do a self exam?"
Doctor Zhara: "I just assume people are providing accurate information."
Chris Nagus: "Is there any concern they might not be?"
Doctor Zahra thought about the question for nearly a minute before saying, "I'd have to think about that."
Given what we have seen in our News 4 investigations, we wanted to know how the doctor justifies the price, and whether he or other doctors should even be necessary.
Chris Nagus: "Do you think a doctor should be part of this process?
Dr. Zahra: "In some states where recreational marijuana is allowed you go into a store and get it."
Chris Nagus: "Should Missouri go that route?"
Dr. Zahra: "I think if you're using marijuana as medicine a doctor should be part of the process."
Chris Nagus: "For critics who see this and say $200 bucks is a huge profit for a few doctors, [what do you say?]”
Dr. Zahra: "The prices we chose were what we have been told other states who have medical marijuana programs have been charging."
Chris Nagus: "That's where you came up with the price, a fair price?"
Dr. Zahra: "Yeah."
When we first spotted Dr. Zahra's flyer we didn't know anything about him. A quick online search revealed something we didn't expect. Although licensed in Missouri, his license to practice medicine in Illinois is suspended.
He received a DWI in Ohio, and while on probation his breathalyzer tested positive for alcohol. In Illinois he was prohibited from prescribing mood-altering drugs to himself, family, or friends.
Since he's now in Missouri qualifying the general public for medical marijuana licenses we asked him to explain the situation just across the river.
Chris Nagus: "Your medical license is suspended in Illinois? why is that?"
Dr. Zahra: "I don't think I'm going to do this anymore."
Chris Nagus: "Is that not a fair question?"
Dr. Zahra: "No."
Chris Nagus: "We're here now if you want to explain?"
Several hours later Dr. Zahra emailed our producer to apologize for abruptly ending the interview. He said he developed a drinking problem during a divorce, but never drank at work. As for his probation violation, he said it happened after he drank three beers, and it only happened once. He said he's in recovery.
Chris Nagus: "Would you be concerned about prescribing this to someone with a substance abuse problem?"
Dr. Zahra: "Not really. If they had a marijuana addiction it certainly would be a reason to not certify, but that's very uncommon."
Dr. Zahra told News 4 he has signed up between 60 and 70 people.