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Marijuana Ruling Reassures Doctors



More Hawai'i doctors may be open to recommending medical marijuana for
certain patients after yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court decision, the previous
president of the Hawai'i Medical Association said.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Justice Department cannot punish doctors in
California, Hawai'i and other states who recommend marijuana to ill

Dr. Philip Hellreich, now legislative chairman of the doctors' group, said
the organization is pleased that doctors who recommend marijuana won't be
punished, but it is unclear whether the ruling means physicians no longer
have to fear losing their federal narcotics licenses issued by the Drug
Enforcement Administration.

Hellreich said the fear of losing those licenses has discouraged some
doctors from considering marijuana as a treatment option. "Some physicians
were afraid of prosecution by the Justice Department," he said.

Nine states have legalized marijuana use for people with recommendations or
prescriptions from a physician: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado,
Hawai'i, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Under the Hawai'i law, patients must have a "debilitating medical condition"
such as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma or other chronic disease and must obtain
annual certification from a doctor to qualify for marijuana use.

In Hawai'i, the program falls under the oversight of state Narcotics
Enforcement Division in the Department of Public Safety. Division
administrator Keith Kamita said 1,039 state residents were registered to use
and grow marijuana for medical purposes as of August.

The number increases each year, Kamita said. The Big Island has the most
medical marijuana patients, with 513, followed by Kaua'i (259), O'ahu (139),
Maui (121) and a total of seven on Lana'i, Moloka'i and Ni'ihau.

O'ahu medical marijuana user Tom Mountain runs the nonprofit Medical
Marijuana Patients' Co-op. He said the Supreme Court decision supports the
physicians' right to treat their patients.

"It doesn't actually help us get marijuana to sick people," Mountain said,
"but it does help doctors feel a little less intimidated."

He said doctors are worried about the potential for the DEA to take away
narcotics licenses of physicians who recommend medical marijuana.

"Hopefully, this is the first step in people backing off on medical
marijuana," he said.

Hellreich said the Hawaii Medical Association still wants to see evidence
that marijuana is uniquely effective in treating patients. The group has
opposed medical marijuana, saying its health effects are unproven and that
marijuana smoke shares some of the cardiovascular risks of tobacco smoke.

"We don't smoke penicillin," Hellreich said. "We don't smoke ibuprofen."

Pubdate: Wed, 15 Oct 2003
Source: Honolulu Advertiser (HI)
Webpage: Marijuana ruling reassures doctors | The Honolulu Advertiser | Hawaii's Newspaper
Copyright: 2003 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Contact: letters@honoluluadvertiser.com
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