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Marijuana Act Creates Enforcement Bramble

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April 27,00
Honolulu Advertiser
By Dan Nakaso, Advertiser Staff Writer
U.S. Attorney Steve Alm said yesterday he doesn't plan to use the list of patients who register for medical marijuana use in Hawaii as the basis for search warrants and arrests.
Even though the Legislature approved marijuana on Tuesday for medical reasons, advocates from Hawaii to Washington still worry about federal agents' invoking federal marijuana laws - and the sticky issue of obtaining marijuana for medical reasons.
"Nothing has changed," Alm said. "It's still against federal law."
Tom Mountain, who describes himself as an "educational, political activist and black historian," worries about his friends who smoke marijuana to ease their pain and medical problems.
"If you register, you're in effect admitting you're breaking federal law," Mountain said. "Once they have a list of all of these people, then that's the basis for a search warrant for them to break into our homes."
But Alm said he has no intention of obtaining the names of people who must register with the Department of Public Safety's Narcotic Enforcement Division. "That will not happen," Alm said.
Otherwise, Alm did not want to speculate on how federal authorities might handle medical marijuana cases in Hawaii.
The bill approved by the Legislature allows marijuana for people with a "debilitating medical condition" such as cancer, glaucoma or AIDS; or for a medical condition that causes pain, nausea or other problems.
Patients would need written permission from a physician and must register. They also would be restricted to no more than three mature marijuana plants, four immature plants and 1 ounce of usable marijuana per mature plant.
Sources Not Specified:
The bill does not say how patients can legally get their seeds, plants or smokable marijuana.
"These laws are imperfect. They still leave a tremendous gray area in how people are to receive their marijuana," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington. "They will have to buy it from a drug connection, and all of the lovely subtlety of what that means. Or they can buy the seeds illegally over the Internet and have to develop the botanical skills to grow marijuana, which is not that easy."
Gov. Ben Cayetano said he expects to sign the bill and has 45 days to do so. Medical marijuana use is permitted in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Maine and Nevada.
Assistant Prosecutor is User:
Keith Vines, an assistant district attorney in San Francisco, went from drug prosecutor to medical marijuana advocate after he treated his AIDS wasting syndrome by smoking marijuana.
Federal agents have moved against marijuana buyers' clubs that stretch the bounds of medical marijuana laws, Vines said.
They're less inclined to pursue individual patients who are clearly within the law, he said.
"The feds can go around and bust and arrest seriously ill patients, but you know they have not done that in any of these states," Vines said. "If they were going to come after anybody, I would seem to be a likely candidate. I'm a prosecutor. I admit to using medicinal marijuana. I obviously possess it."
Seattle Guidelines:
In 1999 Kate Pflaumer, U.S. attorney for western Washington state, wrote a memo to Seattle police saying she wasn't interested in prosecuting medical marijuana cases.
"Given our limited funding and overwhelming responsibilities to enforce an ever larger number of federal offenses, we simply cannot afford to devote prosecutive resources to cases of this magnitude," she wrote.
Puna Grower:
Jon Adler worries less about federal agents and more about providing enough medical marijuana for everyone.
He openly grows and smokes marijuana on his half-acre property in the Big Island's Puna District and has been lobbying state and federal officials to become Hawaii's primary source for medical marijuana.
"I'm the only one applying for the job, and I'm applying with every agency there is," said Adler, who is also running for Hawaii County mayor.
Adler said he smokes marijuana for religious reasons and because it helps his asthma. He hopes to grow 10,000 marijuana plants on his property someday, for distribution through hospitals and other designated dispensaries.
"I want to provide a healing ministry for those who have a legitimate need," he said.
Medical Marijuana: Brave Step Forward:
Next time you're tempted to criticize the Hawaii Legislature as a spineless lot, consider its passage this week of a bill legalizing the medical use of marijuana.
It is a bill whose time has come, but that hasn't been clear to some legitimately powerful and persuasive opponents, including Hawaii's law enforcement agencies and the Hawaii Medical Association.
Even more daunting, one would think, is the fact that medical marijuana remains criminalized by federal law.
The bill allows patients to use marijuana if they have been diagnosed by a licensed physician as suffering from a debilitating medical condition and have a written certification from the physician that the potential benefits of medical marijuana outweigh health risks. Such conditions include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, or chronic diseases or conditions that cause severe pain, nausea or seizures.
Gov. Ben Cayetano has said he's inclined to sign this bill. He should.
Once it becomes law, we hope Hawaii's medical community will have the wisdom and courage to prescribe this palliative where indicated. There's enough suffering in this world without allowing unnecessary pain to persist.

Published: April 27, 2000
© Copyright 2000 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.