Medical marijuana patient-tracking program moving forward

The Colorado Bureau of Investigations and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are tentatively set to meet next week to discuss a computer system that tracks Colorado medical marijuana patients for law enforcement.

The Medical Marijuana Technology Project came to light earlier this month when it was mentioned in a proposed bill that would have shifted more than $9 million in surplus medical marijuana patient registry fees to various marijuana-related agencies.

The patient-tracking program would enable a digital connection between law enforcement and the health department's confidential MMJ patient registry. The system would allow cops to verify whether or not someone is a valid medical marijuana patient without calling into the CDPHE -- currently the only way to verify patient status.

Mark Salley, CDPHE spokesman, confirms that there will be a meeting next week between his department and the CBI to discuss moving forward with "the mechanics of creating the called-for Technology Information System. " June 5 is the tentative date, though Salley told us to check back next week for more specifics.

CBI spokeswoman Susan Medina confirmed that the meeting date and time had been set. Thus far, however, the final agenda hasn't been set.

Earlier this month, CBI director Ron Sloan told us his organization is still working on a number of issues, such as deciding if the system would immediately flag medical marijuana patients in police computers or if that information would be query-based. Sloan said the system likely would be searchable by name as well as medical marijuana registry number.

"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 said. "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 also said he doesn't believe such a system would be abused by law enforcement looking to pin offenses like driving under the influence of marijuana on patients.

Page down to continue reading about the medical marijuana patient-tracking program. "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."

Tracking patients isn't the only goal of the program. The second part of the Medical Marijuana Technology Project would link law enforcement to the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division databases related to dispensary employees and travel manifests. The idea is that if a dispensary employee is pulled over delivering a pound of herb to another dispensary, police would be able to verify the legal status.

However, MMED spokeswoman Julie Postlethwait made it sound like a lack of funding has put this project on hold. "In light of the budget shortfall the MMED is re-evaluating and prioritizing its projects," she wrote in an e-mail. Postlethwait added the MMED will not have access to the patient information provided to CBI by the CDPHE.

But is the Medical Marijuana Technology Project system needed? As activist Kathleen Chippi recently pointed out: If the more than $9 million in surplus patient registry money isn't going back to patients, it could at least be used to pay a few people to staff phones at the CDPHE 24-hours-per-day in case a police officer needed patient verification. It would likely be cheaper than an entirely new computer system and would even put a few more people to work in this state.

There's been no announcement so far about possible public input at the meeting. When we get more information, we'll post it.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: What conditions does it cure, help or leave unaffected?" and "Medical marijuana: Silver Lizard open for biz despite raid rumors."

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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes