Medical marijuana patient-tracking database was never publicly discussed?
Update by William Breathes: It is starting to look like there never was an opportunity for public comment on the proposed digital connection between law enforcement and the Colorado medical marijuana patient registry.
State officials are only able to point to vague language in state statute for authorizing this program.
The topic was never discussed in any of the Board of Health meetings from July 2010 to March 2011 that were specifically called to outline rules for HB-1284, the legislation that set regulations for Colorado's medical marijuana industry. The board went over a number of patient related issues that needed clarification at the time, including caregiver patient counts, which doctors would be allowed to write recommendations and additional registry-related matters.
But apparently the database didn't need any clarification -- not even in the final published rules. Nowhere in them is the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation or any other entity explicitly charged with creating a computer system.
Repeated requests to multiple state agencies still haven't produce a clear answer about when the Medical Marijuana Information Technology Program was ordered into existence by any rule-making group, legislative body, commission or person.
However, CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley believes the program was made explicit by language in HB-1284. He points to the phrase: "The state agency shall maintain a registry of this information and make it available twenty-four hours per day and seven days a week to law enforcement for verification purposes."
Ron Sloan of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Which is confusing, because I don't see anywhere in that sentence or any of the language in HB-1284, Amendment 20 or the promulgated rules that call for direct police access to the patient database. And as activist Kathleen Chippi has pointed out, that language could easily mean staffing someone at the CDPHE 24/7 to answer the occasional call from a police officer trying to figure out if someone he pulled over can legally possess their meds.
"The medical marijuana registry is imbedded in the Colorado constitution and state statute," Salley wrote in an e-mail. "It's the department's priority to accomplish the required information exchange in the most effective, efficient way possible -- and that is connecting existing data systems for the limited purpose of confirming or denying registry status. We spoke with law enforcement, including CBI, after passage of HB 10-1284 to try to figure out how to make the information they are authorized to have available electronically to meet the 24/7 requirement, and ultimately the department agreed with CBI to create a link through CBI to provide the information to law enforcement."
Salley went on to assure that the information would only be used when appropriate and that a computer database allows the CDPHE to audit patient queries. "This link will not allow law enforcement to go fishing through the database for information they are not authorized to have, it simply allows them to confirm or deny registry status," he maintained. "No access to protected health information is provided."
Read that one over again carefully. Apparently, your status as a medical marijuana patient is not considered protected health information to the CDPHE, even though you need a qualifying medical condition to register as a medical marijuana patient in this state.
No word yet on if patients will be flagged automatically, as CBI director Ron Sloan suggested. But if the CDPHE doesn't feel that your status as a medical patient is protected information, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to see the department including it in any standard background check.
As we mentioned below, future meetings about the marijuana technology project will not be open to the public. CBI officials have directed all questions to the CDPHE; spokesman Salley says the department cannot provide Westword with any documentation about where the program currently stands, because such information doesn't exist.
Page down to read our previous coverage.