Postcards attempt to recruit Fargo residents to open out-of-state dispensaries, but are they legitimate?
Planted Cannabis says it's trying to find people convicted of marijuana offenses to apply for a cannabis dispensary license, but a Utah spokesperson said they have concerns it may be a scam.
FARGO — Officials are questioning the legitimacy of postcards inviting Fargo residents who have been convicted of marijuana offenses to apply for a cannabis dispensary license in Illinois.
Residents in the Fargo-Moorhead area received mailers recently from an entity called Planted Cannabis. The postcard that displays a North Dakota number says, “The State is offering cannabis dispensary licenses to persons convicted of a cannabis offense.”
“Own a planted cannabis dispensary at no cost to you!” the postcard said. “Must have a marijuana conviction on your record to qualify.”
The mailer has two sides: one in English and the other in Spanish.
Parrell Grossman, director of the consumer protection and antitrust division for the North Dakota Attorney General's Office, questioned the intent of the postcards. His office has received several calls about the mailers, he said.
He advised residents to be careful about contacting Planted Cannabis and cautioned against providing information to those associated with the postcards, specifically financial information.
Utah residents received similar card that said “the State” was offering cannabis dispensary licenses. That prompted the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to issued its own warning.
“It has been brought to our attention that there is a scam, or potentially multiple scams, being shared throughout the state making false claims that the individuals may be eligible to open their own cannabis dispensary,” said Dr. Brandon Forsyth, medical cannabis division director for the Utah agriculture department. “We want to clarify that the Utah Medical Cannabis program does not allow for cannabis dispensaries outside of the allowed licensed pharmacies. Any offers stating that individuals can create their own dispensaries are false and considered scams.”
When contacted by The Forum, Planted Cannabis owner Mike Smith said he was recruiting people to open dispensaries in Illinois through the state’s Cannabis Social Equity Program . He denied that his recruitment tactics were scam or phishing attempts.
Smith said he is working with attorneys to send a cease and desist order to the Utah agriculture department.
Those who have been arrested for, convicted of or adjudicated delinquent for cannabis-related offenses can apply to run a dispensary in “disproportionately impacted areas,” according to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
The state agency did not respond to a message left by The Forum.
North Dakota has legalized medical marijuana but not recreational cannabis. The state opened its first medical cannabis dispensary in 2019 in Fargo.
The state allows for eight medical dispensary licenses, all of which have been taken. It does not offer a program for those convicted of cannabis offenses to apply for licenses, Health and Human Services Department Spokeswoman Heather Steffl said.
Any person who is convicted of a drug-related misdemeanor offense in the last five years is prohibited from working in or owning a dispensary or manufacturing facility in North Dakota, she said.
A message played when The Forum called the North Dakota number on the postcard said Planted Cannabis no longer is accepting applicants, but it directed callers to a website where they can enter their information for the next lottery.
Smith said he didn’t put Illinois on the postcard because he didn’t want people to think the program doesn’t apply to them if they don’t live in Illinois.
“I picked states that had the highest marijuana arrests per capita,” Smith said when asked why he used a North Dakota number.
Utah Department of Agriculture and Food spokeswoman Bailee Woolstenhulme confirmed the cards are coming from Illinois, but the postcards indicated the lottery as being part of Utah’s medical cannabis program, she said. The department doesn’t know the intent of Planted Cannabis, which is why they warned Utah residents not to call the phone numbers or visit the website associated with the postcards, she said.
“I know that they say there is a program in Illinois, but the fact that they’re sending them out in other states with state numbers for that specific state makes me even more concerned that they have nefarious intentions with this,” Woolstenhulme said.
Smith said he has done this in other states. He said he finds applicants who qualify for the social equity programs, funds the applications and partners with them on the business.
“They help me, and I help them," he said. "They help me by being able to put more balls in the lottery, and I help them because they would have never heard about or had this situation.”