Feds Ask States For Info About Medical Pot Patients, But Why?

By Britni de la Cretaz 08/30/17
Protecting patient anonymity is among the chief concerns for health officials in states that have received the request for info.
Doctor holding a marijuana bud and writing a prescription.

One of the White House’s anti-drug initiatives is seeking information about patient demographics from states where medical marijuana is legal, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont, among others.

According to the Boston Globe, Dale Quigley, deputy coordinator of the National Marijuana Initiative (NMI)—a former Colorado police officer who is openly against legalization—has asked health officials in multiple states for data on their registered medical marijuana patients, including age, gender, and prescribing condition. The NMI is an arm of the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area initiative, a law enforcement effort funded by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Though some of the information requested by Quigley is public record, states like Massachusetts are taking care to protect the anonymity of medical marijuana patients.

For example, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which oversees medical marijuana, is weighing whether it is legally able to disclose patients' prescribing conditions, because this could possibly reveal the identity of a person who has, for example, a very rare medical condition.

“We must protect patients’ anonymity and comfort in obtaining medical cannabis without feeling like they’re being watched,” Beth Collins, senior director of government relations and external affairs at Americans for Safe Access, a national medical marijuana advocacy group, told the Globe.

Collins said the federal government's interest in the data may scare patients away from going the legal route. “It’s an access issue,” Collins told the Globe.

Quigley of the National Marijuana Initiative claims that the data is for research, but his request has some officials worried. They fear that because Quigley and the Trump administration are marijuana opponents, they could skew the results.

According to the Globe, Quigley says the data will be used to look for a correlation between marijuana use in states with legalization and how strictly those same states regulate medical marijuana.

“I’ve not seen much good come out of legalization,” he told the Globe. “When you make something that has no sense of risk or harm attached to it widely available, use rates are going to go up.”

Advocates and officials are right to be concerned; Massachusetts' own Governor Charlie Baker opposes legalized cannabis. (Voters approved legalization for recreational use last November, despite the governor's objections.)

This potentially biased research that would give legalization opponents ammunition against wider access to cannabis could leave people who need medical marijuana without the treatment they need.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.