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
Health Canada, Santé Canada