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Wherever there is legitimate business playing by the rules and thriving, there are also scammers looking to make big money by gaming the system. No industry is immune. Not even medical cannabis. If you need proof, look no further than a recent bust in Spain.

Spanish police, working with their counterparts at Europol and other national police agencies, recently busted a gang of scammers they accused of stealing some $686 million from investors in 35 different countries. Their elaborate scam involved convincing the investors to put their money into medical cannabis production.

A Sophisticated Scheme

According to news reports, the scammers concocted an elaborate scheme through which they would lure investments for the reported purpose of financing cannabis cultivation. The effort involved at least nine individuals who were arrested on April 11 in Spain, Britain, Germany, and several other countries.

Their scam was so sophisticated that they relied on hotel parties, music videos, and luxury cars to convince investors of their potential earnings. The efforts paid off. News reports say that 180,000 people invested in a business which, ultimately, proved to be nothing more than an elaborate Ponzi scheme.

It should be noted that the bust is in no way a poor reflection on the medical cannabis industry. Those arrested were simply inserting themselves into a lucrative market and using it as a springboard to solicit fraudulent investments. The medical cannabis industry itself continues to thrive as more countries accept the medical benefits cannabis has to offer.

Cannabis in the U.S.

At this point, it does not seem that the Ponzi scheme defrauded American investors in large numbers. However, that may change as details are revealed by the authorities. In the meantime, the medical cannabis market here thrives. Nearly 40 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to green light medical cannabis. The market is now worth billions annually.

Utah is one of the states that allows medical cannabis but not recreational marijuana consumption. There are clinics across the state, like those operated by the group behind Utahmarijuana.org, assisting patients as they apply for or renew medical cannabis cards. A total of fifteen state-licensed pharmacies dispenses cannabis medications to those with valid cards.

California, Colorado, New York, and Oregon are among those states that have legalized both medical and recreational consumption. States with dual use are having to balance medical needs with the realities of recreational consumption. Some are managing while others are struggling.

Cannabis at the Federal Level

While the states legalize cannabis to one degree or another, marijuana remains illegal under the Controlled Substance Act. Marijuana – and THC by extension – remain on the list of Schedule I controlled substances. This indicates the federal government’s belief that it offers very little medical benefit while also being highly addictive.

Over the years, marijuana’s addiction potential has proved to be exaggerated. As for its medical benefits, a growing body of evidence suggests marijuana and THC can be effective as a treatment for chronic pain. Millions of people now use it as a primary pain management therapy. Medical cannabis is also showing potential for treating PTSD, nausea, and other conditions.

As long as marijuana’s acceptance around the world continues to rise, there will be scammers looking to take advantage of the legal market for their own gain. The bust in Spain is only the beginning. Expect more crimes and arrests in the foreseeable future. We do not yet know how big the legal cannabis market will grow. But as long as growth continues, scammers will look for ways to take advantage of those involved in it.