Recent attempts by the federal government to request personal information on registered medical marijuana patients are stoking fears that officials will use this data to support a crackdown on state-legal cannabis. Health departments in at least eight states have been contacted by either a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force or the National Marijuana Initiative (NMI) over the past several weeks.
Federal officials have requested that states provide them with data on the age, gender, and medical condition of registered patients. States were also asked to provide the total number of new medical marijuana registrations granted each year, along with the reasons for each authorization. Dale Quigley, director of the NMI and known opponent of cannabis reform, said that the data is being used for “comparative demographic research into states with medical provisions for marijuana and the use of a state-issued identification card.”
NMI coordinator Ed Shemelya said that the research is not linked to an anti-drug task force formed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year. The research is only being conducted to “examine the impacts of medical and recreational marijuana,” he said. “The intent is to provide factual information about the consequences of medical marijuana, and we will provide this to general public via our website.”
“How it is used after that I cannot answer,” Shemelya added. “However, it is not being done for the purpose of guiding or shaping federal policy on marijuana. We are merely fulfilling our mission of educating folks on the impacts of medical and recreational marijuana.”
Tom Angell, chairman of drug policy reform advocates Marijuana Majority, said that he was concerned about the motivations behind these requests, and urged states to ensure that any data they provided “cannot be used to support any ‘Reefer Madness’-induced enforcement efforts that Jeff Sessions may wish to launch.”
To date, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Nevada, Maine and Vermont have reported being contacted by federal officials seeking to obtain this information. Officials from some of these states declined to provide the specific data that was requested, and instead provided links to generalized public demographic data on their medical cannabis programs.
“The federal agency and task forces requesting this data have a long and dubious history of misleading the public about marijuana and advocating against state-level medical marijuana laws,” said Mason Tvert, vice president of public relations and communications at VS Strategies, a communications firm focused on promoting cannabis policy reform. “It is not surprising that the state officials who have been entrusted with administering these programs and protecting patients’ rights have some qualms about handing over their data.”
“Apparently there is a lot the federal government could learn from the states, and hopefully it will opt to work with them rather than against them,” Tvert said. “The best path forward would be one in which patients’ privacy is protected, states’ rights are respected and federal priorities are reflected.”