Friday, December 10, 2010

Proposed Medical Marijuana Database Worries Some Patient Advocates

By Greg Campbell, FACE THE STATE

Among the 90-some pages of draft rules and procedures for Colorado’s medical-marijuana industry unveiled earlier this week by the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board is one that makes some patients particularly nervous. It’s a plan for a massive new database of MMJ patients who enroll in the Medical Marijuana Registry–and it will be available to law enforcement agencies round the clock.

Currently, the registry is maintained by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment and can be accessed by police officers only when they need to confirm the enrollment status of a person in custody.

The Cannabis Therapy Institute, one of the state’s more outspoken patient-rights groups, calls the new plans a violation of the Constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana in 2000.

“This patient and medicine tracking database is a clear violation of Article XVIII, Section 14 of Constitution, Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Amendment, which requires that the health agency maintain a confidential registry of patients, which can only be accessed by law enforcement for the purpose of determining whether a person who has been detained is a member of the Registry,” the group wrote in a press release.

Fern Epstein, an information technology consultant hired by the Department of Revenue to analyze the state’s information needs, said during her presentation to the advisory board Monday that the new database would “provide law enforcement with 24/7 access to registry data.”

“We need to involve the Colorado Crime Information Center, which is managed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation,” she said, “and that would give access to officers on the street and in their patrol cars, access to the registry and Department of Revenue data.”

The regulations being hammered out—which include a system for tracking marijuana from seed to sale in an effort to avoid it leaking into the black market—rely heavily on information technology. Grow operations will be outfitted with cameras that will be monitored by state regulators, and cameras also will track sales to individuals at the cash register.

Patient advocates long have worried that information on the registry would be used by police to target patients; although legal in Colorado for medical use, marijuana is illegal under federal law no matter what the use.

The rules will be adopted after a rule-making hearing, which could take place as early as next month. Legal challenges to some aspects of the new regulations are expected.