Health officials in Colorado may have been playing fast and loose with private medical marijuana data, and patients are fed up.
Colorado, which legalized recreational weed last year, has allowed medical marijuana since 2000, and the 100,000 or so patients who use pot in the state are enrolled on a registry. By law it’s supposed to be private. But the Colorado Department of Health and Environment hasn’t taken every step to keep it that way.
Fight For Data Security
A group of medical marijuana patients on Aug. 21 asked the state Board of Health to destroy Colorado’s cannabis patient registry so it can be rebuilt and kept in greater secrecy. The board voted unanimously to reject the emergency petition, but members said they were troubled by a recent audit that shows the Department of Health and Environment has repeatedly given out patient data in violation of the law.
The audit, released in June, highlighted the poor security surrounding the registry. Police, for example, are only supposed to be able to access information under limited circumstances, yet in several cases were given bulk records about patients.
In a case in 2012, the department gave a cop 107 names of patients for his investigation into a dispensary. At another point, the department handed out the names of 5,400 collective growers and never notified them.
Laura Kriho, leader of a patient advocacy group, filed the petition seeking a new patient registry.
“The registry is compromised beyond repair,” Kriho told the Associated Press. “We don’t believe there’s any reason to trust this.”
Angry Medical Marijuana Patients and Supporters
There were about a dozen medical marijuana advocates at the August Board of Health meeting. They put bags over their heads in protest.
“I’m disgusted,” protestor Kathleen Chippi said. “No other patients’ medical information is treated this way.”
Ron Hyman, Colorado’s registrar of vital statistics and the official responsible for the registry, defended its protections and said improvements are being made. More time is needed to iron out kinks in the system, he said.
“We take every breach seriously,” Hyman said.
As a general rule, law enforcement is only allowed to perform narrow searches, Hyman told the Board of Health. They can search the registry only by individual and then only if a patient provides a registry number. The breaches reported in the audit have been isolated incidents, he said.
“We feel we have prudent practices in place,” Hyman said. “They are not permitted to go on fishing expeditions.”
Outlook On Patient Registry
It’s not yet clear how Colorado’s medical marijuana registry will fare in the face of full legalization. There are potential benefits to patients who continue to shop in medical dispensaries and use their prescription cards instead of buying in recreational shops: Taxes may be lower, and possession limits are higher.
So far, the number of patients on the registry has dipped slightly, from about 108,000 to about 107,000.