Medical Marijuana Advocates File Briefs in Federal Court Opposing Disclosure of Private Patient Records

January 27, 2011
Grand Rapids, MI -- The country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), filed an amicus "friend of the court" brief today defending the privacy rights of patients across the U.S. The federal case U.S. v. Michigan Department of Community Health is the result of the Justice Department seeking private patient records from the state's medical marijuana program. Last June, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) subpoenaed the private records of 7 state-registered patients, but after the Department of Community Health (DCH) refused to turn over the documents based on provisions in Michigan's medical marijuana law, the Obama Administration took the state to court.

"Patient privacy is an important ethical and public health issue of our time, regardless of whether patients benefits from the use of medical marijuana," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, author of the amicus brief filed today. "We must do everything we can to protect that right to privacy, especially for medical marijuana patients who remain vulnerable due to an outdated federal law." Following the subpoenas for patient records, the DEA conducted raids in July and December of last year, targeting several state-compliant patient cultivators. No one was indicted as a result of the raids, but the DEA claims to be engaged in an ongoing investigation.

Though the names of the patients have been redacted in court documents, the DEA is seeking "copies of any and all documents, records, applications, payment method of any application for Medical Marijuana Patient Cards and Medical Marijuana Caregiver cards and copies of front and back of any cards located for the seven named individuals." Similar subpoenas were quashed in another district court in 2007, when the G.W. Bush Administration sought the private records of 17 registered patients in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

Incoming Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a vocal opponent of medical marijuana whose office is defending the state, now appears ready and willing to turn over the documents if so ordered. Despite the provision of Michigan law which states that the disclosure of confidential patient information "is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment or a fine of up to $1,000.00," Schuette agreed to comply with a court order to turn over the documents as long as "DCH, its employees and agents will be immunized from liability for providing information that is confidential" under the state medical marijuana law.

District Court Judge Gordon J. Quist postponed a January 12th hearing in the case in order to allow briefs from the Michigan Association of Compassion Clubs (MACC), a group of more than 40 Michigan patients and providers attempting to intervene as an affected party in the case. Cannabis Patients United (CPU) also filed an amicus brief Tuesday. A hearing on the briefs is now scheduled for 9am on February 1st at the federal courthouse, 110 Michigan St. NW in Grand Rapids. The briefs in support of nondisclosure argue in part that not only should Michigan and federal privacy law be upheld, but that disclosing private records will have a chilling and harmful effect on patients throughout the U.S. given the continuation of aggressive federal enforcement actions under the Obama Administration.

Further information:
ASA amicus brief opposing disclosure of private patient records: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/MI_DEA_Subpoena_Amicus.pdf
DEA petition to subpoena private patient records in MI: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/MI_DEA_Subpoena_Petition.pdf
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's response to DEA subpoenas: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/MI_DEA_Subpoena_AG_Response.pdf

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