Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Author: Kirstin Endemann, CanWest News Service
Published: Monday, January 26, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Edmonton Journal
Contact: [email protected]
Health Canada wants to pass on personal information to police.
Ottawa - Health Canada is threatening to force licensed users of medicinal marijuana to give the agency permission to pass on personal information to the police. Letters "strongly urging" medicinal users to sign and return the disclosure consent forms were sent out last week by Health Canada.
But users of medicinal marijuana say that is an invasion of privacy and are afraid the information could be misused.
"This unsolicited letter shows Health Canada more than strongly urging. It is bullying and threatening," said Philippe Lucas, Director of Canadians for Safe Access to Medicinal Marijuana, a non-profit organization.
"Why should chronically and critically ill people who use medical marijuana be subject to different rules and regulations than other people in Canada?"
Health Canada says it needs the consent form to confirm or deny that someone is authorized to possess or grow marijuana.
It's used, for example, when police arrest or question a person who claims to be a licensed user.
Currently, Canadians who are licensed to use or grow the drug by Health Canada are given the option to consent to such disclosure when they make their application. More than 70 per cent have already done so.
But last week, those who did not sign received forms and a letter from Health Canada "strongly encouraging" them to sign and return the papers.
The letter, dated Jan. 20, also says Health Canada is considering making it mandatory to disclose such personal information to police agencies.
"For the present, your consent to disclose remains voluntary," reads the last paragraph of the letter.
"Given concern for the public good, however, Health Canada will be looking at making consent to disclose to Canadian police agencies mandatory in the future and to make disclosure a requirement in the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations.
"In the meantime, you are strongly encouraged to sign the appended form and return it in the enclosed, pre-stamped and addressed envelope."
The letter is signed by Beth Pieterson, director general of drug strategy and controlled substances. She declined to comment when contacted late last week.
Catherine Saunders, a spokeswoman for Health Canada, confirmed the department mailed 200 letters soliciting consent for disclosure.
"The purpose of those letters was to inform individuals of the benefits to providing their consent," she said.
"For example, if police were to receive a complaint from a neighbour and they went to investigate, they might first wish to call Health Canada to ask if the address was known to us as being that of a person who possesses marijuana for medical reasons," she said.
Lucas, who is a licensed medicinal marijuana user in Victoria, B.C., received his letter from Health Canada on Jan. 23.
"It's interesting but not surprising they are actively soliciting us to give consent," he said wryly.
"But I absolutely object to mandatory disclosure. There are so many concerns with that."
Among them, he said, is the lack of discretion it would give to AIDS patients and those suffering from other illnesses, "in terms of dealing with things like insurance and general prejudices."
But Lucas says he can understand why some people, particularly those who live in apartments, might want to inform police they are exempt to ward off a police investigation spurred by neighbours' concerns.
"But making it mandatory breaks all the rules of privacy," Lucas said. "This is medical information about my medicine I share only with my doctor.
"I only share this with Health Canada in order to get the exemption. Cannabis is just like morphine, which is also illegal to possess without a prescription."
Other authorized exemptees across Canada voiced concerns police may raid and arrest exemptees the day
after their licences ran out, if enforcement agencies know the expiry date through this disclosure of information.
The letter from Health Canada says "under no circumstances" will personal medical information be disclosed by the department.
In fact, the consent only allows Health Canada to confirm the person is a licensed user and how much of the drug they can possess.
The form also includes the start and expiration of the permit, the address of the exemptee, their date of birth and the production and storage location for the marijuana.
All of that information is already listed on the plastic wallet-sized cards Health Canada issues to licensed medicinal marijuana users.
Saunders would not say why consent to release information already available to police on the medicinal marijuana licensing card was being demanded.
She did say the decision to show the card to police is the choice of the licensed person, and therefore also a matter of consent.
Russell Barth, an exempted user in Ottawa who has written a children's book about medicinal marijuana called Mummy's Funny Medicine, showed his card to several police officers in Ottawa when he received it last summer.
"Most of them had never seen it or heard of it, so how can they know if the card is legitimate?" Barth said.
He said Health Canada should spend its money educating the police about the program, rather than attempting to invade the privacy of exemptees.
"But instead, they choose to hassle sick, dying people," he said.
"Everyday I wake up with my guts in a knot waiting for cops to come kick my frigging door in.
"Every day. And I haven't been able to sleep since I got this letter from Health Canada."
Related Articles & Web Sites:
Canadians for Safe Access
Cannabis News Canadian Links
Mommy's Funny Medicine
A Pipe Dream for Ottawa
Battle Continues on Cannabis