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PHOENIX (CBS5) -
Data from the state Department of Health Services show nearly half of the recipients of medical marijuana cards in Arizona are younger than 40.
State officials assume many of them are relatively healthy, having obtained their cards by claiming to suffer from chronic pain.
"About 90 percent of our qualifying patients have cards because of severe and chronic pain," said Will Humble, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Humble told CBS 5 Investigates that after the first time he read the ballot initiative that would become the medical marijuana law, he knew this was the law's weakness.
"From that point forward, I realized that severe and chronic pain had the potential to be the Trojan horse, whereby the recreational users would hook into and qualify for a qualified patient registration card," said Humble.
Of the dozen or so qualifying ailments, severe and chronic pain accounts for the highest number of cardholders by nearly tenfold. At the same time, according to numbers last updated in April, there are more 18- to 30-year-olds with medical marijuana cards than in any other age group.
That tells officials such as Humble and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery that recreational users are getting the cards.
"The reality here is very different than what proponents have tried to communicate to the public," Montgomery said.
He said abuse of the program puts law enforcement officials in a tough position because they are routinely coming into contact with young, healthy people who are carrying marijuana and a state-issued card.
"Somebody's pulling out, literally, their get out of jail free card," said Montgomery.
CBS 5 Investigates went undercover and used hidden cameras to document the process of getting certified for a medical marijuana card and to see whether a moderate backache that had lingered since the beginning of the year was enough for a doctor to recommend a card.
Please see the attached video above for a look at what a medical marijuana exam consists of and the reaction to our investigation.
Note to readers: CBS5 Investigates followed a strict legal protocol while investigating this story. We violated no laws. Our reporter used his real name while visiting the doctor's offices and described real symptoms to a real back condition he has been experiencing. The only information we withheld was the fact that we were working for CBS 5 News on an assignment.
Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.