Health Canada Breaches Privacy of Medical Marijuana Users

Health Canada (medical marijuana)I’ve done writing on the issue of medical marijuana and the broader issue of decriminalization of marijuana before. Today, I received a call from someone who is licensed under Health Canada regulations to use marijuana for medical purposes. They said in the past Health Canada communicated via unmarked envelopes delivered by courier. Yesterday, though, the person received the above pictured envelope delivered via regular mail.

Apparently, similar envelopes went out to people across Canada who are licensed by Health Canada to either possess marijuana or grow their own marijuana at home for medical purposes. As you can see from the photo, the envelope clearly identifies the recipient as being associated with the medical marijuana program.

The caller this morning expressed two concerns: first, that their right to privacy with respect to their health information had been breached by Health Canada. Second, that by publicly identifying them as being in possession of marijuana, their personal safety might be endangered should someone decide to break into their home and take the marijuana. In the case of the caller, they’re licensed to receive 10 ounces a month. The street value of that amount of marijuana would be in excess of $2000, making them an inviting target for criminals.

I phoned Health Canada’s media office in Ottawa and received a call back within the hour. The spokesperson attributed the use of the envelopes through regular mail to “administrative error”. He said Health Canada would be releasing a statement later today, but with thousands of envelopes already having been mailed out and delivered the horse, in this case, has definitely left the barn. Once I receive Health Canada’s statement I’ll provide an update.


Here’s Health Canada’s official response to this matter. The upcoming changes that the deputy minister refers to relate to individuals who are licensed to use marijuana for medical purposes being no longer able to grow cannabis for personal use in a private dwelling. Instead, as of March 31, 2014 they will be required to purchase cannabis from a licensed grower. That move was made, Health Canada says, because it had heard “many concerns” that the Marihuana Medical Access Program was “widely open” to abuse. That allegedly took the form of licensed users producing more than they required and selling the rest on the black market. As well, Health Canada says, licensed users without a lot of horticultural expertise would sometimes grow in unsafe conditions that could potentially cause fire and mold issues in a residential setting.

Anyway, here’s the deputy minister’s statement. And I have received word from a person involved with the non-profit Medicinal Cannabis Patients’ Alliance of Canada that legal action is being contemplated against Health Canada for the privacy breach:

Health Canada recently sent approximately 40,000 informational letters to individuals with an interest in upcoming changes to the Marihuana Medical Access Program. I have been advised that as the result of an administrative error, the envelopes were labelled to indicate that they were sent by the Program. This is not standard Health Canada practice.

On behalf of Health Canada, I deeply regret this administrative error. Health Canada is taking steps to ensure this does not happen again. Protection of personal information is of fundamental importance to Health Canada. We are in discussion with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

George Da Pont
Deputy Minister/Sous-ministre
Health Canada, Santé Canada

Author: Gregory Beatty

Greg Beatty is a crime-fighting shapeshifter who hatched from a mutagenic egg many decades ago. He likes sunny days, puppies and antique shoes. His favourite colour is not visible to your inferior human eyes. He refuses to write a bio for this website and if that means Whitworth writes one for him, so be it.

13 thoughts on “Health Canada Breaches Privacy of Medical Marijuana Users”

  1. “The spokesperson attributed the use of the envelopes through regular mail to ‘administrative error’.”

    Organizing an individually-addressed mass-mailing of literally tens of thousands of essentially identical letters takes time and planning. Someone… perhaps some *group* of people… had to sit down and carefully plan both the wording of the mailed materials themselves, but also the format of the package.

    Conscious decisions were made about (perhaps even a budget was submitted and approved for) the acquisition of exactly the number and *type* of envelopes and labels, about the formatting of the written materials in order to fit such packaging (including making sure that the name of the originating department was clearly visible)… and of course, about doing it all through regular lettermail.

    The decision to do it this way was not an “administrative error”. It was a *PLAN*… one that took several people *weeks* to organize, and one that deliberately went against their normal way of mailing things to licensees. My guess is that there are even longstanding written policies and procedures about client privacy that someone (or some group) looked over once again and said “no, we’re not going to bother with that stuff to spare *these* people’s privacy”.

    “Administrative error”? Right, and so was the invasion of Iraq.

  2. To make matters worse, the gum sealing the envelope is a resealable sort. I was able to open mine and reseal it without tearing it.

  3. happened to me yesterday and I live in a neighborhood with 2 schools, and elderly neighbors. I am so worried now.

  4. You know… the “home invasion” angle just makes me sick.

    Think: if a gov’t “administrative error” published people’s bank-account info (from RevCan direct-deposit records, for example), some people would be at risk of having their money stolen. The public outcry would be *HUGE*.

    THIS “error” puts some people at risk of not only theft, but assault, the destruction of their homes, and possibly serious injury or death… and the gov’t expects to get off with “Oops. Sorry. We’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

  5. I sure hope HC has a security team they can send in the reg. mail to protect all those with marijuana in their homes.


  6. This “administrative error” potentially jeopardizes the current reception of my allotments. It also potentially places me in harms’ way. I have contacted Amanda Wilson, L. Proulx, my doctor and my lawyer.

  7. Funny how these politicians are being exposed with their lies…now their pointing fingers at marijuana users and breaking the law again!! Whoa!! Bad News. Grrrrrrr

  8. I am new to this program within the last year and am utterly discusted with Health Canada’s recent preceedings. I have MS and father of two on dissability where. I didn’t have to pay for this so helpfull drug NOW having to pay for it as of April 2014! Wich btw I will expect health Canada to reimburse at the end of the year once i file income tax. Also more importantly this mistake by Health Canada has now exposed my kids to this drug use and cost me an explanation to my kids who seen this envelope! Sickened!

  9. Obviously RIGHT NOW ! , is the time to Legalize Cannabis, & all of it’s derivativs.

    Email/ text / tweet yer MPP, MP ( Lukiwski hardyharharpo et al ), city councilor (lol)

    & Thomas Mulcair , He can start asking new questions !!!

  10. This is really a serious issue. Even when use of medical marijuana in Canada has been legalized after a long fight from people still its not much easy for them. Hope govt. could make some arrangements for this also.

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