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Hawaii: Bill Takes Aim at Medical Pot


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Publish Date: February 12, 2012
Source: Hawaii Tribune-Herald (Hilo, HI)
Author: John Burnett
Link: Bill takes aim at medical pot | Hawaii Tribune Herald



Tribune-Herald staff writer

A bill to tighten the state's medical marijuana law has passed the second of three required floor votes in the state House of Representatives.

The only "no" vote at Thursday's second reading was by Rep. Faye Hanohano, a Puna Democrat, who did not return a phone call by story deadline. House Bill 1963 was drafted by the state's Narcotics Enforcement Division, which administers the state's medical marijuana program. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which hasn't yet scheduled a hearing.

The legislation would place strict limits on medical conditions that could be legally treated with marijuana, and would limit the number of marijuana plants at any address to 21, regardless of the number of people with marijuana permits at the address. It would also require physicians to register all locations they use to recommend patients for medical marijuana cards, and make it a felony punishable by five years in prison to make false statements on a medical marijuana application or to law enforcement officials regarding the medical use of marijuana.

According to 2011 NED figures, Hawaii County accounts for almost half of the Big Island's 7,593 permits. Big Island Police Chief Harry Kubojiri and Prosecutor Charlene Iboshi have submitted written testimony supporting the measure, as have other law enforcement officials.

"I think the current language (of the law), while it wasn't intended, left loopholes, opening up for abuse, which we have seen occur," Kubojiri said Friday. "We've had experience where there were physicians from out of state come in and people lining up and purchasing their recommendations for medical marijuana, and it was just an in-and-out type of transaction and no doctor-patient examination. We've heard that the cost to get these recommendations ranged anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars. We've had cases where someone wanted to do it out of their vehicle, like sort of a mobile shop, if you will."

Both Kubojiri and Iboshi said the measure is meant to restore the law to it's original intent.

"It's not trying to get rid of medical marijuana; it's just trying to get rid of the abuses and make it clear that it's intended for a very limited group – people who have cancer, these wasting conditions," she said. "Not to allow people who say 'I have a back ache' to smoke marijuana."

Kubojiri wrote in his testimony that he was told by NED personnel that "the largest age group of medical marijuana permit holders are the '18 through mid 20 year-olds' who suffer from 'severe pain,' which takes away from the original intent of medical marijuana program, which was designed to assist those who are diagnosed with terminal or severely life threatening types of diseases, such as cancer, HIV and AIDS."

Kubojiri also endorsed "limiting the amount of marijuana permissible at a single address," describing it as "an increasing problem here on the Big Island."

"For instance there was one property recently encountered by our personnel which had approximately 14 medical marijuana permits allowed for a single address; with only a small structure on the property, it is hard to argue all 14 permit holders reside there," he wrote.

Kona physician Dr. Charles Webb, who operates the MUM clinic – MUM is an acronym for "medical use of marijuana" disputed Kubojiri's assertion that the largest group of medical marijuana permit holders are younger adults.

"I have a study accepted for publication in the Hawaii Medical Journal ... where we polled 100 consecutive patients who have had their card for a year ... and part of the analysis was the mean and median age. Half of the patients are above 50," he said.

Webb called the legislation "one of the most mean-spirited and cruelest bills I've ever seen."

"For one thing, it threatens both patients and physicians with felony charges for quote, unquote, any misrepresentation," he said. "You have to fear any mistakes on the forms. If I make a mistake, do I get felony charges for this?

"... It appears they've eliminated chronic pain as a reason for having the card unless you also happen to have HIV, cancer or glaucoma. Crohn's Disease or MS may be excluded. But outside of those few diagnoses, they basically eliminate chronic pain as a reason for using it."

Webb said that scientific studies conclude marijuana is effective in controlling chronic pain and called it "the safest medication known to mankind."

"All the other things we get to use for chronic pain are very dangerous and cause many fatalities and this one causes no fatalities," he said, adding that oversight for the medical marijuana program should be by the Department of Health instead of NED.

The safety issue was echoed in a letter opposing the bill by the Big Island Chapter of Americans for Safe Access, noting that the arthritis drug Vioxx, which was pulled from the market in 2004, is believed responsible for 50,000 deaths. The group said marijuana is "less harmful and causes fewer side effects than any other drug pain medication on the market."

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com
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