The owners of an Oklahoma medical marijuana clinic are suing the state over a new law that gives cops unfettered access to the state's database of licensed medical cannabis users.
Senate Bill 1030, the bill that sparked the lawsuit, was actually created to protect medical marijuana patients during police traffic stops. State Senator Lonnie Paxton told Oklahoma News 4 that under the current law, a registered patient who is caught with weed but does not have their state-issued MMJ card on them “could either get fined or actually be arrested and put in jail for the weekend.”
But Senate Bill 1030 clears that up. Paxton explained that if a person is found with an ounce-and-a-half or less of marijuana and they don’t have their card with them, they cannot be arrested. They can still be fined, however.
In order to make it possible, SB 1030 directs the state Department of Health (OSDH) to make all of its information on registered medical cannabis patients available to the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (OLETS). Police making a traffic stop would then be able to use this information to verify whether or not an individual is legally allowed to possess cannabis in the state.
While the law at first seems like a welcome protection for medical marijuana patients, critics of the legislation discovered that an “ambiguity” in the law actually could allow police to single out patients during traffic stops. This Monday, attorney Rob Durbin filed a petition in the Tulsa County District Court on behalf of Tulsa Higher Care Clinic Inc., a local medical cannabis clinic, and 11 patients.
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The lawsuit argues that SB 1030 does not make enough of a distinction between business and patient licenses, creating a privacy concern for over 170,000 licensed patients. “Patient information is not part of what was supposed to be disclosed to OLETS and law enforcement,” said Durbin to Tulsa World.
“What they intended to be disclosed was business license information," he said. "What this bill does, by allowing patient information to be released, is it essentially brands every medical marijuana patient license holder with a scarlet letter in the state of Oklahoma.”
State law allows police to charge any driver who has any amount of a Schedule I drug in their system with a DUI. Cannabis is still considered a Schedule I drug under Oklahoma law, even though it is technically legal for medical use. The lawsuit argues that the current wording of SB 1030 would allow police to single out patients for DUI arrests solely based on prior knowledge that they are licensed medical marijuana users.
“I’m asking that when I get pulled over, the police don’t already know that I’m a medical marijuana patient,” said Whitney Wehmeyer, co-owner of the Tulsa Higher Care Clinic and plaintiff in the suit, to Tulsa World. “Not that I have shame for it, but there aren’t people that get tagged for using opiates.”
The lawsuit will attempt to stop or modify SB 1030 before it becomes law on August 29th. The OSDH released a statement noting that it “welcomes the opportunity to receive direction from the court on this issue,” News 4 reports. “It is also important to emphasize that no patient data has been shared with any agency or the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (OLETS), and no information will be shared until the court has decided this question."