Medical marijuana patients who choose to grow their own medicine want privacy — both to avoid rip-offs, and because many of them have no great trust of the police. But law enforcement agencies in New Mexico and other states with privacy provisions in their medical marijuana laws say they are worried that raids of legal pot grows drain their resources unnecessarily and could result in someone getting hurt.
Police in Boulder, Colorado complained last year about their state’s grower confidentiality provisions, saying officers spent considerable time investigating operations that turned out to have legal permission to cultivate marijuana. Providence, Rhode Island police secretly monitored a suspected dealer for weeks, only to find out he was allowed to have marijuana, too, reports Sue Major Holmes of The Associated Press.
New Mexico police argue that the state Department of Health, which runs the state’s medical marijuana program, should make it easier for them to find out who is licensed to produce cannabis in their jurisdiction.
|Pecos Valley Drug Task Force|
Legitimate growers may not understand who’s at the door, and “you could get into a firefight, an officer could get hurt,” said David Edmondson, commander for the Pecos Valley Drug Task Force in Albuquerque.
Cibola County, N.M., Sheriff Johnny Valdez agreed. He and other law enforcement officers continue to regard any “narcotics report” as a high-risk situation, because illegal producers could be armed or might have booby-trapped the area.
“As far as we are concerned… we are going into a possible volatile situation,” Valdez saiud. “It can go south very quickly.”
Names of patients and licensed marijuana growers in New Mexico are secret from everyone for privacy and safety reasons, according to State Health Secretary Dr. Alfredo Vigil. Some growers and patients in states without confidentiality clauses have been targets for robberies that have resulted in injuries and even deaths.
|N.M. Department of Health|
|Dr. Alfredo Vigil: “Generally speaking, things that are private and confidential in the world are private and confidential from law enforcement as well unless they go through due process”|
”Generally speaking, things that are private and confidential in the world are private and confidential from law enforcement as well unless they go through due process,” Dr. Vigil said.
New Mexico’s program still has “many, many unanswered issues and questions we are slowly working our way through,” Vigil said. “The relationship with law enforcement is one of those.”
New Mexico licensed its first official marijuana grower last year, in a program adopted in 2008 to help ensure adequate supply for the state’s medical marijuana patients. It now has 11 licensed growers after six were approved in July. Additionally, about 1,000 of New Mexico’s 2,250 active patients are licensed to grow their own cannabis.
The Health Department maintains a 24-hour hotline police can call to verify if someone is legitimately part of the program. Officers can provide just an address and don’t need a name, according to the department.
Eight to 10 calls a month are received to verify patients, but the department has never received a single call about legal producers, agency spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer said.
But Darren White, head of the Albuquerque Department of Public Safety, claimed it’s not practical to expect police to call every time they hear about marijuana.
“If we get a tip that there’s a marijuana grow, I don’t think agents are going to feel comfortable calling someone who’s not even law enforcement and asking if they’re legit,” White said, apparently believing nobody except police officers know anything useful.
Officer White, a former Bernalillo County sheriff and former state Department of Public Safety secretary, apparently believes it’s too much trouble to make a single phone call. Maybe he prefers to go into patients’ and providers’ homes with guns blazing.