Pubdate: Thu, 29 Jun 2000
Source: Hawaii Tribune-Herald (HI)
Copyright: 2000 Hawaii Tribune Herald
Contact: dave@hilohawaiitribune.com
Address: 355 Kinoole St., Hilo, Hawaii 96720
Website: http://www.hilohawaiitribune.com/
Author: Hunter Bishop, Tribune-Herald

QUESTIONS LOOM OVER MEDICAL POT LAW

For richer or poorer, in sickness or health, like it or not -- Hawaii is wedded to a medical
marijuana law.

The Aloha State became the first in the nation to legalize medical marijuana by legislative
action when Gov. Ben Cayetano signed the bill on June 14.

Seven other states have similar laws, but they all were put into effect by voter-initiated
referendums.

While Cayetano said he wanted to help make Hawaii the "health care center of the Pacific,"
not everyone shared his vision of the bill. Law enforcement officers said legalizing medical
marijuana violates federal law, will lead to more illegal marijuana sales, and spur greater abuse
of the drug.

A spokeswoman for the Hawaii Medical Association testified that doctors who advise patients
to use marijuana still face the possibility of professional sanctions and lawsuits under the law.

Medical marijuana proponents, meanwhile, applauded the law's intent but predicted it will fall
short of its goal.

Eligible debilitating medical conditions in the bill include cancer, glaucoma, positive HIV
status, AIDS, or a disease or condition causing weakness, severe pain or nausea, seizures, or
severe muscle spasms characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease. The law allows
patients an "adequate supply," which would not exceed three "mature" marijuana plants, four
immature plants, and three ounces of usable marijuana.

Physicians must certify that their patient has a debilitating medical condition and that the
potential benefits of medical marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks. "Primary
care-givers" may be designated to supply the marijuana to patients who may not be able to
obtain it otherwise under the law. The doctor's certificate would be good for up to a year,
and the registration could cost up to $25.

The new law also prohibits medical marijuana users from lighting up in public parks, beaches
and recreation centers, work places, school grounds or other public grounds.

Care-givers, physicians and patients involved with medical marijuana would all be registered
with the state's Narcotics Enforcement Division, which gives pause to advocates who worry
that federal prosecutors will seek charges against those who have approval to use the drug
under state law.

Law enforcement has general concerns about how the new law will work, said Hawaii County
Prosecutor Jay Kimura. "We're concerned it's going to be abused," he said.

Much has to do with the rules being written by the state Department of Public Safety that will
govern how the law is administered. Keith Kamita, administrator for the DPS Narcotics
Enforcement Division, said the rules will take about three months to write and that public
hearings will be held before they take effect.

Until the rules are approved, however, it is business as usual in Hawaii for police and pot
smokers -- medicinal or not. Medical marijuana users still cannot smoke pot without a permit,
and permits will not be available until the rules are written.

"Nothing has changed," said U.S. Attorney in Honolulu Steve Alm. "It's still against federal
law."

Volcano surgeon Dr. William Wenner predicted the program would not have its desired effect
because patients will be wary about registering with the state Department of Public Safety.
Wenner is skeptical of assurances that users' names -- and the names of doctors
recommending marijuana use -- won't be a source of information for the U.S. Attorney, who
could still prosecute users under federal laws against possession and use of marijuana. "It's
not going to be confidential," Wenner said.

Wenner is the third physician to recommend in writing that Puna resident Jonathan Adler
smoke marijuana to treat asthma and insomnia. An outspoken proponent of medical and
religious use of marijuana, Adler -- who claims to have a legal prescription for pot use from a
California doctor -- believes Hawaii state law already allows the use of medical marijuana.
But he was convicted of growing 89 marijuana plants at his home in Hawaiian Paradise Park
in April. The crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

In a mutual agreement, Adler admitted in court that he had the marijuana plants police said
they found on his property, and prosecutors acknowledged Adler's medical marijuana
defense. "I agreed that the state can ignore my rights until the Supreme Court can
acknowledge them," Adler said.

Third Circuit Court Judge Nakamura then rejected Adler's medical marijuana defense, while
putting off sentencing until after the case is heard on appeal.

Honolulu attorney Michael Glenn, who represents Adler, said Adler would appeal the case
based on the court's failure to recognize the validity of the California doctor's prescription.
The state has an obligation to recognize other states' actions, just as they do with driver
licenses and marriage certificates, Glenn said. California is one of seven other states where
voters approved medical use of marijuana.

"Now that we have passed our bill, and California has its own bill, you would think the
prosecutor would drop the case," Glenn said.

Hawaii County police Capt. James Day, head of the vice division, said, "We have no choice
but to make a case" until the state establishes the rules and guidelines. County police
normally aren't looking for the relatively small number of plants allowed under the new law
anyway, he said, especially during aerial eradication missions. "Three or four mature plants
really wouldn't cause that big of a problem," he said. "We're looking for hundreds of plants."

But determining levels of plant maturity and the actual amounts a person may be allowed to
possess for medical use under the law could pose a problem, Day said. And determining
medical marijuana from illegal marijuana could be difficult from a helicopter. "I would hope
it's not going to cause a problem," he said.

Adler, a previously unsuccessful and current candidate for Hawaii County mayor, has run a
classified ad in the Tribune-Herald for medical marijuana for the past six weeks, drumming up
business for his "medical marijuana ministry." Adler advises callers of the new law, and what
he calls the "religious approach" to medical marijuana. He distributes pot for "donations" of
$20 per gram, the equivalent of $560 an ounce. "It's a manifestation of my healing ministry,
`The Religion of Jesus Church,'" Adler said.

Adler himself smokes up to five marijuana "joints" a day, amounting to nearly an ounce a
week, he said, which would make the legal limit under the law inadequate for his treatment.

It takes about 16 weeks to produce a mature plant if it survives, Adler said, and there's an
even chance the plant will turn out to be an undesirable male variety.

"We're an up-and-up ministry," he said. Adler said he has up to 10 "patients" at any one time
who make donations to the church and receive marijuana. He does not question the
legitimacy of their requests. "I take them at their word."

Adler said he was arrested after an undercover police officer came five times claiming to have
back pain. "Only the cop abused the privileges. He lied."

Besides representing Adler, Glenn said he may file a class action lawsuit to force the state to
redefine marijuana in its schedule of otherwise illegal drugs. The state narcotics enforcement
division still lists marijuana among Schedule I drugs -- the most toxic, dangerous and least
medically useful substances -- despite the new law, he said.

Wenner's stand puts him at odds with the HMA, the professional organization of physicians.
"I was disappointed in their position. Even worse, they have since advised members not to
participate" in the medical marijuana program, he said.

"There's no compassion," Wenner said. "For serious illnesses provides relief without side
effects. There's no question about its safety. Over the long term it is not harmful. It doesn't
cause cancer ... we're supposed to cover our asses and tell the patients to blow off.

"I don't go looking for patients," Wenner said. "These are people who found out themselves.
They look for approval."

Wenner doesn't believe anyone is going to be prosecuted in Hawaii despite the federal law,
and U.S. Attorney Alm said he's not going to use the state's list of medical marijuana users
and physicians to prosecute them under federal law.

"I'm just not going to do it," Alm said. The U.S. Attorney's Office has prosecuted only a
few, relatively high-profile marijuana cases on the Big Island, while concentrating mostly on
the distribution and use of methamphetamines ("ice") cocaine ("crack") and heroin, he said.

Alm also said law enforcement will not change much at any level as a result of the recent
legislation.

"If someone is going to carry around a pound and they get caught, they're over their limit ...
if people are going to use this to try to go around the law, they're in trouble," he said.

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