Maine Medical Marijuana Registry Raises Privacy Questions


Graphic: Maine Medical Marijuana

​Maine’s new medical marijuana dispensary law, passed by voters last November, is chiefly known for its creation of dispensaries where cannabis patients can safely buy their medicine. But a lesser known part of the law, which requires patients and growers to register with the state, is being called an invasion of privacy by some advocates.

State officials say the registry will keep patients who enroll from being charged with marijuana offenses. But some patients said they are going to boycott the registry when it opens in July, reports Josie Huang of The Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

“I am not going to put my name toward a database in the state of Maine, not because I have anything to hide but just because I’m not willing to do that,” said Charlie Whynot, a medical marijuana patient with AIDS.
Whynot is urging fellow members of the Maine Medical Marijuana Resource Center to avoid signing up on the registry. “If they want to register, that’s cool, and we’ll back that,” Whynot said. “But if they don’t, we also want to back them, in essence, if they have a doctor’s recommendation and they’re still legal in the state.”
The problem is, after the registry takes effect in January 2011, an affirmative defense — which means that patients who use medical marijuana are protected if their use has been authorized by a doctor — will no longer be valid.

Photo: Shenna Bellows
Shenna Bellows, MCLU: “Cancer and AIDS patients using medical marijuana… will now have to register with the state or risk prosecution”

​”I hope that neither the state nor local prosecutors will harass patients who choose for privacy reasons not to register,” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union.
The MCLU tried to convince lawmakers to abandon the registry as the worked on fine-tuning the medical marijuana dispensary law approved by voters last year.
The civil liberties group is now working with activists to see if the registry can be made voluntary.
“Department of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General’s Office could proactively issue a commitment to the voluntary nature of the database and make a promise, as United States Attorney General Eric Holder has done, not to focus resources on prosecution of individuals who do not register,” Bellows said.
State officials claim that patients’ privacy fears are unwarranted. Law enforcement will, indeed, have access to the registry — which is understandably a big sticking point for patients  — but only under certain circumstances, said Catherine Cobb, who works in the state’s Licensing and Regulatory Services office.
“Law enforcement will only be able to confirm the information that is on a registry card, that a person is in fact a patient, is in fact a primary caregiver, is in fact a dispensary employee who lawfully is in possession of marijuana,” Cobb said.
According to Cobb, patients who refuse to register will not legally be able to buy medical marijuana.
Cobb said she believed the registry would actually protect patients better than the current system.
“This new law is much more manageable in terms of knowing what you have for the program and being able to easily find out that someone is a participant in the program,” Cobb said, “as opposed to charging them with a crime where you have to go to court, and then, you know, give your affirmative defense.”
Some advocates maintain that the problems with Maine’s new dispensary law highlight the larger need to liberalize marijuana laws overall.
“People are downright sick and tired of prohibition, period, when there’s lots of other things law enforcement needs to put its attention to, rather than bothering people for smoking a plant,” said Don Christen of the marijuana advocacy group Maine Vocals.
Christen is leading a petition drive to get marijuana legalization on the November 2011 ballot in Maine.
Applications for Maine’s medical marijuana registry will be available online on the state’s website in a few days, according to state officials.
The state will start to issue pot ID cards in July.