Seattle Police Seize Marijuana Patient Files

July 17, 2008

Seattle, WA — Seattle police seized files on nearly 600 medical marijuana patients when officers searched the headquarters of a patient support group, activists said Wednesday.

The search occurred Tuesday after a nearby police bicycle officer reported the smell of marijuana. Martin Martinez, who runs the Lifevine cooperative as well as Cascadia NORML, the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said no one was arrested but officers seized about 12 ounces of marijuana in addition to the patient files and a computer.

There were no marijuana plants growing there, Martinez said. He is a longtime advocate of legalizing the medical use of marijuana, following a severe motorcycle crash that left him with nerve damage in 1986. Three other patients authorized to use pot under Washington’s medical marijuana law were also present when officers arrived at the office, which does not dispense marijuana, he said.

Cascadia NORML has been issuing identity cards to medical marijuana patients, but before doing so, it requires the patients to provide their medical authorizations for verification. That’s why the patient files were in the office, Martinez said. The cards are not issued pursuant to the state’s medical marijuana law, but are designed to help identify the patient as legitimate if confronted by police.

Some of the nearly 600 patients are now dead, and some others are no longer actively using marijuana, he said.

The police “have a heck of a lot of patient records I don’t think they should have,” said Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle attorney who specializes in medical marijuana cases. “For one thing, those records are protected under federal privacy laws. If you’re a medical marijuana patient, you don’t want the police to know who you are or where you live, and this is why – because you don’t get treated very well.”

Hiatt and Martinez said that before the search they tried to convince the officers as well as a deputy King County prosecutor there were no violations of the medical marijuana law.

The police department did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the King County prosecutor’s Office, confirmed that officers consulted a deputy prosecutor before searching the office Tuesday, but he said police have not referred the case to his office.

Under Washington’s medical marijuana law, doctors can authorize patients to have as much as a 60-day supply of marijuana to treat symptoms of AIDS, cancer and other debilitating or chronic conditions. The law doesn’t define what a 60-day supply is, but the state Health Department proposed this month that it be defined as 24 ounces of usable pot, along with six mature plants and 18 immature plants. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

According to Hiatt, the seized documents included patient authorizations, full medical histories, and the names of doctors who authorized the marijuana use.

Alison Chinn Holcomb, who follows marijuana issues for the Washington state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that the group was providing or growing marijuana, and no information that has been revealed thus far would seem to justify seizing the patient files.

“These are very sick people with very serious conditions, and we’re sure none of them want the nature of those conditions made available to the public or to anyone who doesn’t have a valid need for it,” she said.

Source: Seattle Times (WA)


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