Medical Cannabis Growers' Privacy Upheld By Canadian Federal Court

In Canada, a Federal Court ruled that data on the locations of large-scale medical cannabis growers will be protected from disclosure, reported The Globe And Mail.

What Happened

In 2017, The Globe submitted a request to Health Canada seeking access to a list of addresses of individuals licensed to cultivate and possess cannabis on a large scale. The Globe found that these farms, protected by health privacy laws, had created a gray market in which individuals could produce as much marijuana as some commercial producers, which could expose them to robberies and abuse by organized crime.

However, Health Canada rejected the request, arguing that providing general location details for these operations could risk breaching the private health information of medical marijuana patients.

The Globe then appealed the decision to the Canada Information Commissioner, who agreed that at least postal codes should be available for operations in the most populated regions.

Health Canada’s Argument: “Even if some FSAs [forward sortation area] could be provided for areas large enough that no one patient could be identifiable, it would be too burdensome for it to conduct a full analysis of whether it would be possible for someone to combine the information with other data to identify patients,” per The Globe.

Federal Court Decision: Public Right To Information Or Patient Rights To Privacy

According to Justice William Pentney, Health Canada was “not required to undertake a more detailed analysis of the risks associated with releasing more information pursuant to its obligation to sever and release as much information as is reasonable.”

“Part of me reads this decision and says, yeah, I think that this is a vulnerable community, and the protection of privacy has to be paramount … so I think it’s the right decision,” said Teresa Scassa, a University of Ottawa law professor. “But another part of me looks at this and says: How are we going to come to terms with issues of transparency and accountability of government and access to information in a society where there are not only so much data but so many tools to process that data in a way that re-identification risk is almost guaranteed?” Scassa concluded.

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Photo: Courtesy Of Markus Spiske On Unsplash

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