Like many in this state infused with a unique blend of staunch libertarianism and potent homegrown sativa, Chris has a problem with being on a government list.
This list of course, would be the Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry, and his concern is the abuse or misuse of personal information pertaining to a politically and socially contentious issue.
Chris, a former serviceman, uses marijuana under the radar and requested that his full name not be printed in this article. He defines himself as a "constitutionalist," valuing personal freedom and limited government.
"I don't really trust what the government plans on doing with the information," says Chris, 30. "They say, 'Oh, well you're on a list, you're OK,' but what happens when they decide you're not OK and it's no longer acceptable?"
Like Chris, many Coloradans are unsure whether there are substantial laws in place to protect them from potential government abuse or discrimination.
So is there credence to these concerns, or is this just some good old-fashioned stoner paranoia? For answers, we spoke separately with Special Agent Mike Turner with the Drug Enforcement Agency, Sgt. Steve Noblitt of the Colorado Springs Police Department, and Tanya Garduno, president of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council.
Indy: Can law enforcement tap into Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's registry any time they want to?
Mike Turner, DEA: It would probably be through a subpoena or a court order. There's a legal procedure for confidential information, and that could be anything from bank records to whatever's protected.
But the DEA has no interest in patients. They're not targets of our investigations, unless they're members of a major drug trafficking organization. Folks spin up these fears out there that the DEA is looking to gather info about folks that have medical marijuana cards, and that's not what we're about. We're charged with tracking major drug trafficking investigations.
Steve Noblitt, CSPD: Why would we care if you have a medical marijuana permit? That would make it legal. Common sense would tell you that.
Let's say we did have this nefarious agenda to go after people with marijuana — we wouldn't go after people who had it lawfully. If there was a list out there for people who didn't have a medical card, we'd be interested in that. It doesn't make any sense to me, I guess is what I'm getting at.
Tanya Garduno, CSMCC: The Department of Revenue has stated that they're going to put together a database of patients that has not yet been put to fruition. Once that's available, law enforcement will be able to access that, but only from the means to verify if someone [who's been contacted by police] is a legal patient or not.
Currently, the way that registered patients are housed in the database is with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, so those are two completely separate bureaucracies in the grand scheme of things.
Indy: Can records obtained from dispensaries come back to hurt a patient somehow?
Turner: I wouldn't say we keep an eye on dispensaries — I mean, we get info all the time. What we do, really, is all spelled out in the Department of Justice policy regarding states with medical marijuana laws. It all has to do with government resources, and so not whether or not it's legal in the state.
Again, we have limited resources, so we're going to concentrate those resources on our mission, which is major drug trafficking operations, including marijuana. Could there come a day that the DEA [is] looking at a particular dispensary? Maybe. As of today, we have yet to do that. And we've never gone after a patient through one.
Noblitt: It doesn't make any sense that people should worry about it being any different than being on a list for Vicodin. If you have a prescription and you have a medical marijuana card, then that makes it lawful. If you have a lawful right to have it — if you've gone through the process that we have in place — that's the only way to be lawfully in possession of it.
Garduno: The DOR came into play when [House Bill] 1284 came into play, and ... it regulates the centers themselves. So actually, it doesn't address the patients and what they're supposed to be doing. In fact, the rules and regulations don't address the database for the patients, either.
Right now, [law enforcement is] really concerned about making sure the centers are not committing criminal activities. At this point, patients are still constitutionally protected with the CDPHE.
Indy: Do patients have anything to worry about at all, or is it just the suppliers and dispensaries that authorities are concerned about?
Turner: Folks out there that are claiming that the DEA is just waiting to come down on them — that's not what we do. And it is kind of tiresome to hear those statements that are being made by certain pro-medical marijuana people, because it's just baseless, because we haven't done it ...
Marijuana is illegal under federal law, so what's happening here in Colorado with the state medical laws, the selling of marijuana from a dispensary, is actually a violation of a federal law. [But] again, we're interested in individuals involved in major distribution organizations.
Noblitt: The dispensaries, we have to keep them in compliance the same way we do liquor stores. We make sure liquor stores don't sell to people they're not supposed to be selling to, and we make sure dispensaries aren't selling to people they're not supposed to be selling to. Also, we make sure that they're not keeping more product than they're authorized to keep. I mean, that's all regulated. We're the regulators; we're the law enforcers. We're not concerned with the lawful citizens, the people who are following the rules.
Garduno: We've been told that [the DOR database] is only for verification purposes — [law enforcement is] not supposed to be using it to query by ZIP code or by street and then try to hit whoever's on that street. There have been a lot of advocates that are very adamant about this. It's a pretty big violation of HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] rights if they use this for the wrong purpose.