Group challenges federal government's effort to get records of Michigan medical marijuana users

January 26, 2011

John Agar, Grand Rapids Press

Americans for Safe Access, a national medical-marijuana advocacy group, today filed briefs in the case where the federal government is seeking state-held records of seven medical-marijuana users.

This is the third group asking to be heard in the case after state Attorney General Bill Schuette, an opponent of medical marijuana, said the state would release the information upon a judge's order. The state Department of Community Health, which administers the program, last summer resisted a subpoena by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The DEA requested the information as part of a drug investigation in the Lansing area, records showed.

The state has been reluctant to release the records fearing it would violate privacy protections in the medical-marijuana law.

A hearing is Tuesday in U.S. District Court. Originally, a judge was to act on a request by federal prosecutors to enforce the subpoena earlier this month.

Americans for Safe Access considers itself the “nation's largest member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens working to promote safe and legal access to marijuana for therapeutic use and research.”

This case is being watched across the country.

Grand Rapids attorney Bruce Block, who has focused on marijuana cases, wrote on behalf of the organization: “If the federal government succeeds, medical marijuana patients in Michigan and throughout the rest of the United States will be deterred from becoming legal medical-marijuana patients in the states in which they reside.

“This will be deleterious to the health of thousands, yet the Michigan Department of Community Health has not addressed these issues, has not argued the merits of whether or not these documents must be produced, but rather has acquiesced to the demand – so long as this court will somehow cloak it with immunity when it violates the law.”

He said that the DEA is seeking “documents of the most intimate nature – medical records of sick and dying patients.”

Under the law, the state holds a confidential list of of qualifying patients and caregivers, who can grow marijuana. The Department of Community Health can only tell law enforcement if a registration card is valid.

While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, prosecutors say they are not targeting legal users of the drug.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bruha said that “ Department of Justice policy discourages expenditure of investigative or prosecutorial resources on individuals or caregivers 'whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.'”

Block said that if information is released from the registry, it “would open a Pandora's Box,” and become “an easy source of information the federal government could access by subpoena of an agent whenever it desired.”

Such access would essentially “nullify” the program, Block wrote.

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