Federal Request For Michigan Patient Info Raises Privacy Issues


Graphic: MJ Dispensaries of Southern California

​Medical marijuana proponents in Michigan say confidentiality of patient records is at risk if the federal government can obtain state-compiled records as part of a federal witch hunt, I mean “drug investigation.”

“It would set a pretty significant precedent against patient privacy rights,” said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), reports John Agar of The Grand Rapids Press. “It’s not just a problem in Michigan, it’s all over the country.”

The Michigan state agency that collects confidential medical marijuana patient information will comply with a federal request for access to its records if ordered to do so by a judge, the state said in court filings.

ASA had planned to protest Wednesday morning outside of U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids — where the federal government’s request was to be heard — but the protest was canceled when the hearing was postponed by a last-minute filing from the Michigan Association of Compassion Clubs (MACC).

MACC filed an emergency brief in an attempt to stop the federal government’s access to confidential medical marijuana records held by the Michigan Department of Community Health. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration subpoenaed records as part of their vendetta against, I mean “investigation” of, seven people in the Lansing area.

Photo: MyBayCity.com
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he’ll turn confidential medical marijuana patient records over to the DEA if ordered to do so by a judge — and guaranteed immunity

​The state, represented by Attorney General Bill Schuette, has refused to release the confidential patient records without a judge’s order. The state also wants the judge to provide immunity against any potential civil or criminal action for releasing the patient records.
Yes, it sounds suspiciously as if the Attorney General doesn’t really give a fig about patient privacy, which was supposed to be protected by Michigan’s medical marijuana law. It would seem that all the cravenly ambitious Schuette cares about is covering his own ass.
On behalf of MACC and “John/Jane Does 1 through 42,” Traverse City attorney Jesse Williams asked the judge to intervene and stay proceedings. The hearing was postponed until February 1.
“It is highly likely that the DEA’s subpoena will unwarrantedly reach not only into the confidential physician-patient records of the seven targets of the DEA’s investigation, but also into 35 other physician-patient confidential records that have nothing to do with the DEA’s case,” Williams wrote in his filing.
“DEA’s subpoena also asks DCH to ‘give testimony’ about the records of the 42 potential medical (marijuana) patients at issue in the case,” Williams wrote.

Photo: Amberglaw
Attorney Jesse Williams says the DEA’s subpoena will “unwarrantedly reach” into confidential physician-patient records that have nothing to do with the DEA’s case

​Confidentiality guarantees written into the law — approved by 63 percent of Michigan voters in 2008 — led patients and providers to give information they thought would be secure, Williams said.
The government claimed it is only looking for records linked to its investigation. But Williams said the DEA is on a “fishing expedition,” and said Atty. Gen. Schuette should have defended the law’s confidentiality provisions.
Schuette has been an outspoken opponent of medical marijuana, which Williams said affected his decision.
While Michigan voters legalized the use of medical marijuana under state law, it remains illegal for any purpose under federal law.
Schuette’s office wimped out, I mean wrote in court documents that it recognizes it has to comply with a valid court order to provide patient information.
“Accordingly, DCH will comply with a valid order from this court requiring DCH to comply with the DEA subpoena,” Schuette’s office cowered, I mean wrote. “The order should also make clear that, pursuant to the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, DCH, its employees and agents will be immunized from liability for providing information that is confidential” under the medical marijuana law.
The DEA wants “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.”
The names of the seven are redacted in court records.
Williams, representing the compassion clubs and the 42 patients seeking to be respondents in the legal action, said he spoke with both the federal and state attorneys asking for their consent to intervene in the proceedings, but at this point has not won approval. He asked for the stay to further research his clients’ claims, defenses and grounds for intervention.
According to Williams, his clients’ legal interests “will not be adequately represented by the existing parties.”
Americans for Safe Access is considering joining the legal action.