Medical marijuana registry numbers on the rise despite confidentiality breaches

The Colorado medical marijuana patient registry saw the largest increase in active patient numbers in months this summer, growing by 2,475 patients to 109,292 people from June to July.

The Department of Revenue received a total of 3,514 applications during that time period and hasn't reported any denials. That means as many as 1,039 additional new patients were added to the registry, although that number could be offset by people dropping off or not renewing.

The passage of Amendment 64, which legalized the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis in limited amounts, was predicted to reduce the number of patients on the registry, but the growing figures some nine months after A64's passage seem to tell a different story.

Part of that could be because the next chapter -- recreational marijuana sales -- has yet to begin. But it could also indicate that medical marijuana patients who purchase pot at dispensaries will keep their cards in order to avoid paying a 30-40 percent tax rate (and possibly even more) for recreational cannabis.

Voters are being asked this November to approve a 25 percent tax on cannabis at the state level, with an excise tax applied to wholesale transactions. The handful of municipalities allowing recreational sales also plan to tack on special taxes, with proposals running from 3.5 percent (Denver) up to 15 percent on top of regular city and state sales taxes.

Put another way, a $100 half-ounce could require as much as $21 in sales tax. And that $100 could also be inflated: Some suggest that the additional 15 percent state excise tax will be passed on to consumers through higher retail prices.

But avoiding taxes may not balance other concerns about the registry and privacy. A state auditor's report released in March of this year accused the department of going beyond what was required and giving too much information to police. In August, several groups joined together to protest against the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment linking the confidential patient registry with law enforcement computers. And not just those of Colorado cops, either. The Colorado Crime Information Center is accessible by federal law enforcement as well.

Police are allowed access to information in the registry only when presented with medical marijuana patient information that needs verification. Under the old method, police would have to call the CDPHE to do so -- but the new computer system allows police to access it with just a few keystrokes.

As a result, Cannabis Therapy Institute's Laura Kriho says the registry has been compromised, and she's urged the department to destroy existing databases and start over. However, a petition to that effect was shot down by CDPHE and the security of database information with regard to law enforcement access remains questionable at the moment

Other registry stats remained roughly the same. Men still make up about 67 percent of all patients, and the average age still hovers around 42 years old. There are 39 minors under age eighteen on the registry (with parental permission). Severe pain still accounts for most registrations, with more than 100,000 patients in the state using cannabis for that purpose. Muscle spasms account for the second-most-reported condition, with about 15,600 patients. Severe nausea comes in third, at 11,216 patients.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Pot tax critics represent small minority, says Amendment 64 co-author" and "Colorado NORML board opposes recreational pot tax measure."

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