Privacy Breach? DeSantis Sparks Controversy with Email to 700,000 Marijuana Patients!

Privacy Breach? DeSantis Sparks Controversy with Email to 700,000 Marijuana Patients!

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida has over 700,000 medical marijuana users, and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is fighting a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, wants them all to know how well he’s doing.

Last Monday, the Department of Health sent a blast email to its medicinal marijuana patient list announcing that DeSantis had signed the state budget. The email praised a cancer research program promoted by first lady Casey DeSantis, listed health issues such as HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis in the spending plan, and included a message from Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo stating that he and DeSantis are “advancing public health and personal responsibility in Florida.”

Nothing in the email addresses medical marijuana, and patients and activists argue that the DeSantis administration breached their privacy by utilizing the patient list to push policy.

“That’s revolting. “That is such a misuse of power and information,” said state Rep. Kelly Skidmore, the House Health Policy Committee’s ranking Democrat. “I guarantee you nobody checked the box that said, ‘Yes, it’s OK to send me information on Gov. DeSantis’ agenda.'”

The Department of Health stated that it did not target medical marijuana patients, but rather sent the budget statement to everyone in its email databases, which according to spokeswoman Weesam Khoury include more than “2 million members of the public, health care professionals, licensees, and the media.”

Khoury was asked if the department has email databases for other patients, such as cancer, COVID-19, or HIV, but he would not say whether such databases exist or are used to support the governor’s budget.

“It is unfortunate that The Associated Press has decided to write a story about the inconvenience of an email, rather than covering the key investments that will save countless lives,” she stated.

Patient advocates argue that it’s more than just a nuisance; it’s a violation of privacy, and not just because supporting the governor has nothing to do with their health. Florida has wide public records laws, and if someone received the master email list, they might determine who is a medical marijuana patient, as they account for roughly 35% of the recipients.

Patients could be subjected to unsolicited marketing and political messaging, or worse, employers could find out who has a medicinal marijuana card.

“This was a ‘look how great the governor is and how much he’s done for us at the Department of Health,'” explained Jodi James, president of the charity Florida Cannabis Action Network. “My information should not be part of their general email blast list by any stretch of the imagination.”

Ironically, DeSantis has been a vocal critic of “Big Tech” and accused private firms of exploiting customers’ personal information.

It’s stunning that the state would exploit the patient email list to advance its legislative goal, according to state Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried, a former agriculture commissioner who managed the list of concealed weapons license holders.

“I would have been scorched alive if I had done anything with that database to either release their information to another part of my agency or to have used that database for pushing the rest of the news or activities from the Department of Agriculture,” Fried stated. “It’s irresponsible.”

A medicinal marijuana patient in Pensacola has told The Associated Press that he and others want to submit a formal complaint.

“If it was a doctor who leaked your private patient information for another purpose, I believe someone should be held accountable,” said the patient, who did not want his name used to protect his medical confidentiality.

Personal injury attorney John Morgan, who led the state’s 2016 medicinal marijuana initiative, questioned how the email could not violate federal law governing the distribution of medical information. He also stated that the email list would be a goldmine for those seeking to exploit it for political objectives, such as promoting legalized marijuana in November.

“That would be the greatest list they could ever have for this election,” he stated.

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