Colorado pot patient registry to stay confidential, officials say

The Cannabis Therapy Institute sounded a warning last week that Colorado will soon provide law enforcement agencies with random access to the state’s burgeoning registry of medical marijuana patients.

In a release, the Institute’s Laura Kriho said she is concerned that patient registry information will be available to law enforcement personnel on demand.

Department of Revenue, Department of Health, law enforcement officials and the private company working on improvements to the state’s medical marijuana database architecture all told the Colorado Independent that in the updated system patient names and personal information will remain confidential.

The constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana says law enforcement will have access to the database only to determine whether someone who claims to be on the registry actually is.

Officials say that is the way it will remain.

“I don’t know where they are getting that,” said Lance Clem, public information officer for the Colorado Department of Public Safety and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. “That couldn’t happen. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, who has been heavily involved in helping the state navigate the new drug laws, says the claims of Kriho are “outrageous and ill infomed.”

He says no one in law enforcement will be able to access the database except to find out if someone who has been stopped and who then claims to be a medical marijuana patient actually is one.

Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council told us the same thing.

Julie Postlethwait, public information officer with the Department of Revenue’s medical marijuana enforcement division, confirms that all patient information will be protected even after improvements have been made to the database. She said the point of improvements is to give police access to accurate information quickly. “We need to satisfy the statute, which says that police are to have access to the data 24×7,” she said.

William Browning, whose company, Rebound Solutions, is doing some of the technical database architecture work for the state, says police agencies and officers will not be able to surf the database at will.

“What they get is binary information, yes or no. That’s it,” he said. “This is really about protecting patients,” he said. “If you are a medical marijuana patient and you are stopped for a traffic matter and you have marijuana in the car, you need to be able to prove right now that you are a patient, otherwise you’re going downtown. This database enables you to prove it. That’s it,” he said.

Here are excerpts from the original press release:

For immediate release, Dec. 6, 2010

State to Replace Confidential Medical Marijuana Registry with Law
Enforcement Database

{Denver} — At the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board’s final meeting on Monday, Dec. 6, 2010, the DoR unveiled details about the monolithic database it is creating to gather volumes of private information on medical marijuana patients.

The database will be shared among several state agencies, including the Department of Revenue, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and all state, local and federal law enforcement, including the Colorado Crime Information Center and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Epstein stated that there “needs to be some interface between various
information technology databases.” She explained, “Revenue needs
information from the Registry. The Registry needs information from the
Department of Revenue, and law enforcement needs information from both of those organizations.”

She also stated that law enforcement will have “24/7 access to Registry data” and the new database will “give access to officers on the street and in their patrol cars — access to registry and Department of Revenue data.”

Epstein said, “The goal is for replacement of the Registry probably within a year’s time.”

This patient and medicine tracking database is a clear violation of the
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.

Patients fear that their formerly private medical information will be used
to prosecute them. Patients are already opting out of the Registry out of fear of this new “data fusion” system. Many more patients will opt-out of the MMC-model if this database is developed.

If you are concerned about the DEAth of the state’s confidential medical marijuana registry, please contact the Cannabis Therapy Institute’s Patient Advocacy Project at:

Here is Lance Clem’s written response to the release:

Well, this news release contains some totally erroneous information. Whoever wrote it did not research the process at all, nor did he or she confirm anything with any of the agencies named. This is just not how things work.

I would say that this release is completely inaccurate, is untrue, alarmist and utterly misleading. The confidentiality of the medical marijuana registry will be preserved. Officers will not have access to it. Officers will know only that a subject is or is not authorized for medical marijuana upon querying the crime information system database. Use of the crime information system database is tracked, and officers cannot just use it out of curiosity (remember the Cory Voorhis case?). No medical information goes into the database. The CCIC system simply communicates with the registry and returns with a “yes” or “no” response. This protects the registrant from being cited if he or she is authorized for medical marijuana use, absent any other possible violations. A person can still be cited for impaired driving, whether or not the person is on the registry, for example.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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