Court Ruling Keeps Medical Marijuana Patients’ Records Confidential

Press Release August 12, 2004
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Simeon Gant at (916) 202-1636

Medical Marijuana patients and their doctors scored another victory this week when the California Supreme Court refused to review an appellate decision blocking the California Medical Board from searching the records of Dr. David Bearman.

The decision protects doctors and patients in possession of medical marijuana (as codified in Proposition 215) from violation of their privacy rights by law enforcement and the California Medical Board

“This is a wonderful victory which sustains the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship, privacy of patient records and provides the court common sense affirmation that a letter of approval is no more an invitation to go fishing in a patient’s records than is showing a law enforcement person your prescription,” wrote Dr. Bearman in comments to supporters. “It is another building block in the legal wall of support for Proposition 215.”

In April 2001, a patient who admitted to possessing medical marijuana after being stopped by park rangers at Lake Piru Recreation Area, showed rangers a letter from Dr. David Bearman that attested to his legal right to possess the drug under Proposition 215. The proposition protects seriously and terminally ill patients from criminal penalties for using marijuana medically.

The subpoena alleged that Dr. Bearman had “indiscriminately” recommended the use of medical marijuana to the patient. The Medical Board of California attempted to access the patient’s records, but both the patient and doctor refused to turn over the records, citing doctor-patient confidentiality. The court ruled that the medical board “failed to demonstrate sufficient facts to support a finding of good cause to invade the patient’s right of privacy” and threw out the case.

“The California Supreme Court refused to sabotage the principle of client patient confidentiality,” said Judy Appel, acting director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The California Medical Board should know better than to bring law enforcement into the doctor’s office. This ruling is a victory for sick patients and the physicians who have their best interests at heart.”

Dr. Bearman was represented by Seymour Weisberg, Alison Adams of The Chase Law Group, and Joe Allen of Ambrecht and Associates. Dr. Bearman was also supported by the California Medical Association, which filed an amicus brief in the case.

Over the last year, there have been numerous legal victories in both the federal and state courts for California’s medical marijuana patients. For example, just this week a federal appeals court ordered the release of Bryan James Eppis, the first medical marijuana patient convicted in federal court after the passage of California’s Proposition 215. In another case, People v. Spark, a conservative California appellate court confirmed that California’s Compassionate Use Act does not require a patient to be “seriously ill” to use medical marijuana. An appellate panel reversed the conviction of Noel Spark, who was originally sentenced to probation and 6 months in the county jail for having 3 cannabis plants.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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