Medical marijuana patients won't be auto-flagged in criminal database

It's not really a consolation, but at least Colorado medical marijuana patients won't be treated like sex offenders in the proposed computer link between the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and law enforcement crime databases.

Back in April, Colorado Bureau of Investigations director Ron Sloan said patients might be pre-flagged in the CBI system, so that someone undergoing a background check would automatically show as a medical marijuana patient without a direct query -- much the same way the names of sex offenders pop up currently.

But according to CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley, patient medical marijuana status would not trigger an automatic flag, as Sloan had previously mentioned. Law enforcement would instead have to make a specific request for that information. CDPHE officials have also confirmed that law enforcement would not be able to search the records with only a name and birthday.

Otherwise, the department has not been able to provide draft budgets, proposals or any other information about how the program would operate, and future meetings will not be open to the public.

However, March 2011 notes uncovered by activist Corey Donahue in a Colorado open records request from the Office of Information Technology outline draft proposals for the plan in detail.

The Office of Information Technology draft seems to have been compiled before any bids on the project were taken from outside software companies. However, it offers a glimpse into what state officials hoped to achieve.

According to the document, the searches were intended not only to verify "ownership and lawfulness" of medical marijuana, but also to "identify individuals to whom transferring a firearm would violate [Federal law]." According to the draft: "This purpose will be used by the CBI Instacheck unit to determine whether an individual may possess a firearm under federal law. It will also be used by law enforcement for similar activities."

Under this draft, law enforcement would be able to search by name, date of birth and ID number on contact with a person transferring medical marijuana, during an investigation, or for a firearms background check. Proposed information that would be provided by the CDPHE upon query by a law enforcement officer include:

• Name • Date of birth • ID number • Issue date • Expiration date • Whether or not a patient has state permission for an increased plant count above the standard cap of six.

The search would be pretty much the same for private caregivers, including whether or not they can own or posses a firearm. Police would also be able to access information on the caregiver's patients.

CDPHE officials tell us those documents are being revised to see what content needs to be changed.

As of Friday morning, the department was unable to confirm or deny that the records would be used to verify legal firearm ownership/possession. But we've been told we can expext an answer on that question next week.

Colorado's Amendment 20, which authorized medical marijuana use in the state, allows law-enforcement members to access information when they have "stopped or arrested a person who claims to be engaged in the medical use of marijuana and [is] in possession of a registry identification card or its functional equivalent." That currently means that police have to call and have CDPHE employees verify a patient's status.

Officials have repeatedly argued that the Medical Marijuana Technology Information program does not violate Colorado medical marijuana law that requires the database information to remain private. They believe vague language in HB-1284, which regulated the medical marijuana industry, authorizes the digital connection they characterize as merely a technological extension of how the system operates currently.

"The confidentiality of the information won't change...only the method of exchanging the information changes," Salley notes via e-mail. "There is no room for interpreting confidentiality of the data. That doesn't change."

The CDPHE will receive funding July 1 to begin implementation of the project. But representatives were unclear about when it would actually be online.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana ad ban supportive, not punitive, councilman says" and "Medical marijuana patient-tracking database was never publicly discussed?"