Washington: US Court Rebukes DEA’s Attempt to Crack Medical Marijuana Records
by Dominic Holden
Ads appearing each week on the back of the Stranger and Seattle Weekly – and similar papers on the West Coast and in Hawaii – are pretty much picking a fight with the feds: “Medical marijuana. Our doctors can help.” The ads then provide a phone number for The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation clinic, which connects patients with doctors who specialize in writing medical marijuana authorizations for the sick and dying. To the the Drug Enforcement Administration, however, THCF is flagrantly running a multi-state business that permits people to violate federal law.
On May 24th, the feds had had enough—federal prosecutor James Hagerty, at the behest of the DEA, filed a subpoena for the records of 17 individuals, 14 of whom were patients with marijuana permits from doctors at the clinic. But the subpoena had broader implications, too. 11 of those named were registered patients with Oregon’s Department of Human Services medical-marijuana program, and the subpoena also demanded that the State of Oregon turn over those patients’ private medical records to the feds.
But in a formal rebuke yesterday afternoon, a federal Judge sided with the state and the clinic, granting a motion to quash both subpoenas. “Absent a further showing of necessity and relevance, compliance with the subpoena would impact significant State and medical privacy interests and is unreasonable,” wrote Judge Robert H. Whaley of the U.S. Court Eastern District of Washington. The ruling represents a major defeat for the DEA and a victory for states with dissenting drug policies.
Adam Wolf, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Drug Law Reform Project, was the lead counsel for the clinic. On the phone this morning from Santa Cruz, he summarized the decision by saying, “Doctors and their patients who use medical marijuana are safe from the prying eyes of federal prosecutors.”
What Wolf didn’t say is that had the ruling gone the other way it would have ominous ramifications. Paul Stanford, director of THCF, says forcing the state and clinic to hand over private records “would have had a chilling effect, making it more difficult for patients to get past the paranoia of registering with the state, as [required by law] in Oregon.”
Really, who would want to join a medical marijuana program if it meant your medical records became an open book and SWAT teams could come crashing through your door as you lay on your death bed? (As it stands currently, authorized patients are immune from conviction in states with medical-pot laws—as long as they grow a small enough amount to stay out of federal court.)
The case originated out of Yakima, Washington. Three individuals suspected of growing marijuana were alleged to have distributed pot to the patients named in the suit. Originally, feds sought all medical records from those patients; then restricted the request, in oral argument before the judge, to request only addresses and phone numbers, according to yesterday’s order. The shift in scope, to basic contact information already available to the all-seeing eyes of the feds, showed the DEA’s cards. “They were trying to intimidate patients and doctors from participating in the medical marijuana program—clearly unnecessary for the investigation [into the three suspected marijuana growers],” says Stanford.
The judge saw through the bullshit, too: “The Government has not shown why it needs to obtain all of the addresses and phone numbers from the State of Oregon and the THCF Medical Clinic rather than from some other source.”
Federal prosecutors may ask judges to reconsider the decision in the 9th District Court of Appeals.