The Columbian / Associated Press

Medical marijuana registry viewed warily

Medical marijuana users are concerned about a voluntary state database.

Washington state officials are in the midst of creating a voluntary medical marijuana registry for patients. On Thursday, officials from the state’s Department of Health listened as about a dozen Southwest Washington residents expressed concerns about the idea of a medical marijuana database.

State lawmakers passed a measure this legislative session reconciling the state’s medical and recreational marijuana markets. Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5052 into law in the spring. The measure’s chief sponsor was Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

The bill created the parameters for a voluntary medical marijuana database, but left the detailed rulemaking process up to the state’s Department of Health. State officials are taking public comment and looking for feedback on a range of issues from how people should be removed from the database to who should enter the patient’s information into the database.

John Knilans, 65, of Camas, took issue with calling the database “voluntary.”

Medical marijuana patients who enter the database are allowed to purchase three times the current amount allowed at a licensed retail store. Those who agree to enter the database can also purchase medical marijuana without paying the sales tax.

“You lose patient protections” without signing up, Knilans said. “How is that voluntary? How is that not coercive?”

One of the main concerns raised in the meeting was patient privacy. Those in attendance worried about losing federal benefits, such as Social Security, or possibly losing their jobs if it was discovered they were in a database.

“How are we sure we’re not going to be retaliated against?” said Katie Zinno, 25, of Vancouver.

People also expressed concern about what information would be on the medical marijuana card, although the parameters have already been outlined in the law.

The card will have a randomly generated identification number, a photograph of the patient, an effective and expiration date, and the name of authorizing health care professional.

Kristi Weeks, with the state’s Department of Health, said the meetings have been beneficial but turnout and public input has been low.

One of the benefits of the database, Weeks told those in the audience, is for the first time the state will have a sense of how many patients there are in Washington, what their conditions are and where they live.

Although the state legalized the use of medical marijuana in 1998, the market is unregulated and the state does not know how many medical marijuana users exist.

“For the first time ever, it will give us demographic data,” Weeks said, adding it could be used for research to benefit patients in the future.

“We do hope this will give us information to base good policy decisions,” Weeks said.

The state will continue to take public input both in person and on their website.

The rules are scheduled to be implemented in June 2016.

- Lauren Dake