Hundreds of medical marijuana patients in Canada are suing the federal government for allegedly violating its own privacy laws and potentially disclosing the health information of tens of thousands of Canadians, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. In 2013, around 40,000 patients were mailed information about changes to Canada’s Marijuana Medical Access Program. The envelopes bore the program’s name, revealing that the recipients were medical marijuana patients.
"It exposed people's sensitive personal health information in a way that was completely unnecessary and, at least in my view, they did so very carelessly," David Fraser, a privacy lawyer with McInnes Cooper in Halifax, Nova Scotia, told the CBC. The law firm is looking to organize the 399 complaints filed so far into a class-action lawsuit. “The use of medical marijuana is still stigmatized in some places and in some communities,” he said.
Health Canada, the department that runs the country’s national public health system, said the mailing was a mistake. A judge will decide whether the class-action lawsuit can proceed.
Medical marijuana became legal in Canada in 2000, when a court overturned a law prohibiting marijuana use for patients. However, cannabis remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government. “Health Canada does not endorse the use of marijuana, but the courts have required reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana for medical purposes,” the health department said in a statement last year. “As a result, the Government of Canada believes that this must be done in a controlled fashion to protect public health and safety.”
The government is in charge of issuing licenses to medical patients and cannabis growers. Medical marijuana is bought directly from licensed producers and is delivered to patients through the mail. Costs range from $5 to $12 per gram, according to Leaf Science.