Experts: Medical Marijuana Patient Registry Working In Oregon


Graphic: Potspot 411

​Washington state has no medical marijuana patient registry, but the Legislature is considering following Oregon’s lead as part of a sweeping overhaul bill pending in Olympia.

Patients in Washington are anxious about the proposed registry, seeing it as an invasion of privacy and a tempting tool for police, who strongly favor it, reports Jonathan Martin at The Seattle Times. Reflecting those fears, the current proposal in Washington calls for a voluntary registry.
But Oregon’s 11-year experience with a mandatory registry has resulted in patient advocates, police, attorneys and health-care professionals describing it as the least controversial part of the Beaver State’s medical marijuana law.

Photo: Natl NORML
Madeline Martinez, Oregon NORML: “I’ve been preaching this to my colleagues in Washington: A registry can protect you”

​”I’ve been preaching this to my colleagues in Washington: A registry can protect you,” said Madeline Martinez, executive director of Oregon NORML. “Every state should have one.”
In Oregon, a patient whose physician recommends medical marijuana must enroll and pay the $100 yearly registry fee to gain protection from arrest or unwarranted searches of a home or grow site.
Membership has almost doubled from 23,114 in 2008 to 41,407 in 2010. Nearly 25 percent of Oregon’s doctors have  patient on the medical marijuana registry.
The registry is helpful because it allows police to quickly tell if a medical marijuana patient is legitimate, said Lt. Ted Phillips of the Oregon State Patrol’s narcotics section. Police can access the registry through a secure data link only to confirm a patient’s qualification, not to fish for names.
Although the registry is growing, there are some controversies. For instance, the Oregon Supreme Court is considering a case involving a firefighter whose gun permit was declined after law enforcement discovered his name on the registry.
But his client’s case was a rare questionable use of the registry, according to the firefighter’s attorney, Brian Michaels of Eugene. “It is undeniably helpful,” Michaels said. “There’s tens of thousands who use medical marijuana legally, and a few hundred who are harassed by the police.”
In 2007, a federal grand jury issued a subpoena, trying to force Oregon to turn over the names and records of patients enrolled on the state’s medical marijuana registry, as well as for records from a private clinic that authorized medicinal cannabis for patients in Washington.
Oregon’s attorney general fought the federal subpoena, and Judge Robert Whalley of Spokane, Washington denied the request, finding that patients’ privacy rights trumped those of federal investigators.
Alison Holcomb of the ACLU of Washington, which also fought that subpoena, said she supports a voluntary patient registry. Holcomb cited a recent case in which police knocked down a medical marijuana patient’s door in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood before officers realized the man could legally grow.
If Washington had a patient registry, police could have simply checked to see if he was enrolled, according to Holcomb.
“People who suffer from permanent and debilitating medical conditions shouldn’t have to live in fear,” Holcomb said.
Washington is the only one of 15 medical marijuana states which doesn’t have some kind of registry, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
Instead, Washington patients have to carry paperwork signed by the medical professional who authorized marijuana for their qualifying condition.
Oregon’s experience allays some concern, according to Philip Dawdy, spokesman for the Washington Cannabis Association, but patients are split on the value of a registry — even a voluntary one.
“There’s a lot of fear among patients — and it’s well-placed concern — about how this info will be used against them,” Dawdy said.