ACCEPTANCE of marijuana as an effective medicine for easing pain from
numerous diseases is increasing, but Hawaii remains the only state
where the program facilitating its medicinal use is directed by a law
enforcement agency. The state Senate has approved a bill to move its
administration to the Department of Health, where it belongs, and the
change should be embraced by the House and the Lingle

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is fiercely opposed to medicinal
marijuana, but his arguments have been rejected at every turn. The
U.S. Supreme Court has refused in the past six months to overturn two
rulings by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction
includes Hawaii, that protect doctors who recommend marijuana and
their patients from prosecution for violation of federal drug laws.

Marijuana has been shown to be effective in easing pain for sufferers
of AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses. Hawaii is
among eight states that allow use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The programs are administered by health departments in six of the
states, by the agriculture department in Nevada and by the Narcotics
Enforcement Division in Hawaii's Department of Public Safety.

"It's terribly intimidating," says Pamela Lichty, president of the
Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii. "The mandate of the Narcotics Enforcement
Division is to enforce the narcotics law and to prevent people from
obtaining and using schedule (illegal) substances."

Rep. Ken Ito, chairman of the House Public Safety and Military Affairs
Committee, says he has no plans to hold a hearing on the Senate-passed
bill because of opposition by the Lingle administration, through the
directors of the affected departments. Ito said the Department of
Public Safety feels "they're better equipped and qualified to enforce
it," and the Department of Health lacks the funds or enforcement
powers, so Gov. Lingle probably would veto the bill.

Such opposition is simplistic. In other states, departments of health
"work in conjunction with their departments of public safety, allowing
access to the patient registry if verification becomes necessary," the
Senate Ways and Means Committee noted. Nothing is complicated about a
patient showing a certificate from the Department of Health to a
police officer to justify possession of marijuana.

The Senate-passed bill also would require that the doctor who
recommends medicinal marijuana has examined and assessed the patient's
medical history. Current law allows a doctor to simply examine medical
records before certifying that the patient has a debilitating
condition warranting medical use of marijuana.

The judgment about whether a physician has met even the current
requirement is in the hands of a narcotics enforcer rather than a
health expert. That anomaly should be enough to make clear that
administration of the program belongs in the Department of Health.

Pubdate: Tue, 23 Mar 2004
Source: Honolulu Star-Bulletin (HI)
Copyright: 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin