MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Police Confiscate Medical Records
San Jose police last week "seized" 270 medical record files from the Santa Clara County Medical Cannabis Center, "a club that provides marijuana to chronically ill patients" -- many of whom have AIDS -- "under the rules established by Proposition 215," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Kristina Warcholski said the county confiscated the files to look "for evidence of a crime." Prosecutors believe that some patients at the cannabis center "may have gotten pot for their conditions without obtaining a doctor's recommendation." The Chronicle reports that prosecutors "are calling doctors listed on the medical records to see if the recommendations to obtain marijuana are genuine."
Opposition And Counter Opposition
Civil liberties groups "across the country denounced the seizure as a major breach of the confidential doctor-patient relationship," the Chronicle reports. And Alice Mead, attorney for the California Medical Association said the case "puts patients and their doctors in a very difficult position." Warcholski contends the club "cannot be shielded by privacy laws because they are not medical records in the strict sense of the law" since they were not "stored in a doctor's office or hospital." She said, "They are not considered medical records. They are considered 'client files.'" Dorothy Ehrlich, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said Warcholski's logic is "very disturbing." She said, "Renaming them 'client files' doesn't fix" the intrusion into patient files and loss of confidentiality. Riccardo Ippolito, an attorney for the cannabis center, said, "People will think it's safer for me to buy [marijuana] on the street because drug dealers are not going to ask if I have AIDS."
Who Does The Law Protect?
The Chronicle reports that "California's constitution is one of the few in the country that contains a right to privacy, but prosecutors have prevailed in challenges to seizures of patient records in Medicare fraud cases." Janlori Goldman, director of the Health Privacy Project at Georgetown University said, "Californians enjoy much greater privacy protections than people in most of the rest of the states. The federal government has really fallen down on its responsibilities." Under the Clinton health insurance reform package passed last year, Congress was to create privacy protections for medical records. However, the provisions did not pass because the plan "would give law enforcement agencies free rein to rifle through medical records -- without even notifying the patient." The Chronicle reports that the "seizure of the pot club medical records is destined for a court challenge" that may "determine not only the fate of San Jose's pot club but the degree of privacy afforded any medical record in the state" (Russell, 4/2).