Pubdate: Fri, 12 Jan 2018
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2018 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Sam Wood


Pennsylvania will no longer provide the names of medical marijuana
patients to law enforcement agencies.

The state Department of Health made the announcement late Friday
afternoon in the wake of an Inquirer and Daily News story that called
attention to the fact that marijuana patients would not be able to buy

The department also called for the federal government to reclassify
marijuana, essentially demanding that it legalize cannabis on a
national level. Currently, the Drug Enforcement Administration
considers all forms of the plant to be "without any accepted medical
use," "highly addictive," and on par with LSD and heroin. Last week
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed Obama-era policies and
said federal prosecutors had the discretion to crack down on
participants in state-legal marijuana programs.

"Pennsylvania, and the other 28 states where medical marijuana is
legal, need the federal government to recognize what voters and
bipartisan legislatures across the nation have overwhelmingly called
for, and that is that medical marijuana must be rescheduled as a
Schedule II medication," the Health Department statement read. Other
Schedule II drugs include oxycodone and fentanyl.

About 13,000 Pennsylvanians have applied to participate in the state
program. If all goes as planned, the first crop of medical marijuana
will be harvested Jan. 27 and shipped to dispensaries the second week
of February.

Initially, the state's medical cannabis regulations required the
Health Department to post a database of patient names to an online
portal called JNET, used by 38,000 law enforcement professionals in
the state.

The idea had been to provide some legal protection for patients. If a
patient was stopped carrying doctor-recommended marijuana, an officer
would have scanned a medical marijuana ID card to learn if the holder
was a current participant in the program. In theory, that would have
provided the patient with some immunity.

But the JNET information also would have stopped a patient from buying
a gun. The data could be accessed in a background check while buying a
firearm. A positive result would have stopped the patient from owning
a weapon and obtaining the ammunition to load it. In addition, federal
law enforcement agencies would have had access to the

"Keeping the patient registry out of JNET vastly improves privacy,"
said advocate Chris Goldstein, who writes the "Philly420" column for "No one should be entered into a law enforcement database
just for being seriously ill."

A bipartisan outcry led by marijuana, gun and privacy advocates
spurred state officials to reshape state policy. Patient medical
marijuana cards will no longer be scanned and run through the state
computer network.

"In the case that law enforcement needs to verify a patient's
participation in the program, they will rely on the patient's medical
marijuana ID card," a Health Department spokeswoman said. "While
federal law prohibits anyone to purchase a firearm while using medical
marijuana, a patient's status in the program will not be verified
during the background check process through JNET."
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