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Medicinal Mj Bill Draws Emotions

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Feb 23, 00
Honolulu Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2000 The Honolulu Advertiser
Author: Lynda Arakawa, Advertiser Capitol Bureau
Scott Foster told legislators how marijuana helped relieve the symptoms of his late wife who suffered so much pain from cancer that she dug her nails into his skin and drew blood. He was among more than a dozen people yesterday who urged the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee to pass a bill to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Committee Chairman Eric Hamakawa (D-S.Hilo, Puna) deferred action on the bill, saying he wants to have an opportunity to work through some of the suggested amendments from those who testified. "I want to make sure we send out a clean bill," he said. Much of the discussion was filled with emotional testimony supporting the bill, other legal issues remain unresolved, such as the fact that federal laws would still bar marijuana use for any purpose, and that federal authorities could arrest any users. Opponents including the Honolulu Police Department and the Hawaii Medical Association raised those concerns. They also said medical marijuana must be studied further and stressed that it is not approved by the federal government. The bill would legalize the use of medical marijuana for patients who have been diagnosed as having a debilitating medical condition and whose physician certified in writing that marijuana is medically necessary for the patient. The state Department of Health supported the intent of the bill, saying "humane and compassionate efforts are part of good health care." "This proposal allows physicians and patients to have an alternative drug with which to treat people with HIV (and) AIDS and other serious medical conditions . . .," said Elaine Wilson, who heads the department's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division. More states are legalizing medical marijuana for people with cancer, glaucoma, HIV and AIDS, and other conditions, she said. Medical use of marijuana has been permitted in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Hilo lawyer Cynthia Linet said she smoked marijuana a year ago to ease her nausea and restore her appetite while she underwent chemotherapy. When she finished chemotherapy, she stopped the marijuana with no withdrawal effects, she said. Donald Topping, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said marijuana has a long history of being used medicinally and that thousands of sick and debilitated people nationwide found marijuana to be safe and effective. That people are afraid of using marijuana to ease their pain and symptoms is "a shameful state of affairs," he said. But Maj. Susan Dowsett of the HPD Narcotics/Vice Division said: "Medicine in the United States is determined through scientific study and analysis, not through anecdotal evidence or claims by marijuana advocates." She said the issue should be left to federal authorities, who are studying medical marijuana, and that if medical marijuana is legalized without proper scientific protocol and controls, it will "undoubtedly lead to its diversion into the illicit drug market and will result in the increased abuse of the drug." Dowsett, as well as the Honolulu Prosecutor's Office, also said tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is found in marijuana, can already be prescribed. Heidi Singh, director of legislative and government affairs for the Hawaii Medical Association, said more studies should be done on medical marijuana, and that "physicians cannot in good faith recommend a drug therapy without clinical evidence to back it up."