Marijuana: HB 1358 would fund police computer access to patient database

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HB 1358, a bill that would shift $7.7 million in medical marijuana registry fund money to the struggling Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, passed the House Appropriations committee today, paving the way for a floor vote. The Representative Beth McCann-sponsored measure upsets activists, who say the money should be used to benefit patients or be refunded. But most haven't noticed language tucked into the proposal that earmarks $93,000 for a computer system that will allow law enforcement to access the MMJ patient registry.

House Bill 1284, the medical marijuana regulatory measure passed in 2010, charges the state with developing a tracking system that funnels information from the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division into a database accessible by local law enforcement needing to verify legal status. The program, dubbed the Medical Marijuana Technology Information project, hasn't been finalized. Yet.

According to McCann, CBI is scheduled to receive $93,000 from the Department of Public Safety as part of the 2013 budget. This money will help CBI complete the project in conjunction with the Colorado Crime Information Center, the MMED and the CDPHE. If the bill passes, the state treasurer will take about $93,000 from the CDPHE and give it to the Department of Public Safety to be used "for personal services and operating expenses related to the coordination of the medical marijuana data in the Colorado Crime Information Center," the bill states.

In short: The cash will kick-start the program and fund the continued planning and implementation of the system.

And just what would Medical Marijuana Technology Information project look like?

According to CBI director Ron Sloan, the program envisions a digital connection between the CDPHE patient registry and law enforcement. Basically, it will give cops the ability to verify a patient's red card status through their computer query system. Sloan said only information about whether or not a person's registry is valid will come up.

Though not set in stone, the current plan is for the directory to be searchable not only by registry number but also by the patient's name. Sloan gives an example of officials' reasoning:

"When law enforcement comes into contact with someone, it is typically on a traffic stop where that person is providing their identifying information like name and date of birth," he says. "That person may or may not have their registration card with them. They may not have a patient registration card that is legitimate. The only way for that to be confirmed is for law enforcement to be able to send a query into the system of whether that person is or is not a patient."

Sloan says he wasn't sure if officers would have to make a separate search for MMJ registry information or if it would come up automatically in the form of a flag -- much aas it happens with the sex offender registry. Currently, if a sex offender is pulled over, a flag pops up in the general query results. The officer can then dig deeper into another database to look up more on the offender's history.

Page down to continue reading about the proposed MMJ database. Sloan dismisses the idea that patient privacy issues are at stake and that such a system could be abused by police looking for a reason to bust someone for a THC DUI -- especially if the information is automatically generated by an initial background check. He equates this prospect to a police officer pulling someone over simply because they pulled out of a liquor store parking lot.

"That is really a stretch that they would be able to charge that individual or have any prosecution and conviction simply because they are a medical marijuana user," he says. "I understand the concern. You aren't going to force a test via blood...just because they are registered as a medical marijuana patient. There is no administrative body or court that would support that."

The Medical Marijuana Technology Information Project would also tie in with MMED data on dispensary employees and product delivery information. The idea: If an employee on a delivery is pulled over with several pounds of marijuana on them, he can prove without a doubt that it's legal under state law. While the details have yet to be worked out, Sloan says the database would not be linked to patient purchases at medical marijuana centers, as some activists had feared.

Sloan says planning is ongoing and implementation would still be a way out even if the bill passes -- which is admittedly a long shot, according to McCann. After clearing the appropriations committee this morning, the bill was supposed to be read on the floor today. But this step has been pushed back, and McCann says a reading on Friday and passage through the Senate in the final three days of the session next week makes for a tight deadline.

Note*: This story incorrectly stated the amount to be transferred from the CDPHE to the MMED. It has been changed to show the correct amount, $7.7 million. An additional $2 million would be pulled from the CDPHE fund for youth violence and drug prevention programs.

To read the text of McCann's bill, click here.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: John Suthers uses Drugfree.org study to decry rising teen pot use" and "THC driving bill's passage prompts nationwide NORML action alert."

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