by Lynda Arakawa
Honolulu Advertiser (email) (web)
The Senate yesterday passed a bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana, clearing the way for it to become law.
Senators voted 15-10 to pass the House's approved draft of the medical marijuana bill, sending it to Gov. Ben Cayetano. The governor, who proposed legalizing medical marijuana, has indicated he was strongly inclined to sign such a bill.
Medical marijuana use is permitted in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Maine and Nevada, which passed such laws through voter initiative.
Senate debate over the bill lasted more than an hour. Opponents were concerned about how cultivation and distribution of marijuana will be regulated. Others feared that legalizing medical marijuana might open the door to legalizing other drugs.
Sen. Norman Sakamoto (D-Moanalua, Salt Lake) said the bill is "full of holes," and pointed out that marijuana is prohibited under federal law. He also expected an enforcement problem because the bill allows other people to be in the presence or vicinity of legal users.
"It's not worth the temptation," he said. "In spite of the good for some people, this will do great damage."
Sen. Sam Slom (R-Waialae Iki, Hawaii Kai) said the bill is not perfect, but "sometimes we have to do what's right. And what's right is to provide an option and alternative."
"My constituents have told me that they want this measure passed. Young people, older people, sick people, well people, they have said that they believe in this measure as an option, not as a panacea. And I don't see them becoming drug addicts or dealers or users or abusers."
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. Under the bill, "debilitating medical condition" includes cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, or chronic diseases or conditions that cause severe pain, nausea or seizures.
The bill also requires patients and primary caregivers to register with the state Department of Public Safety and obtain a registration certificate that may cost up to $25. The bill also limits the amount of marijuana per patient, to no more than three mature marijuana plants, four immature marijuana plants and 1 ounce of usable marijuana per each mature plant.
Contraband in schools
The bill prohibits the use of medical marijuana in a school or public bus or any moving vehicle, in the patient's workplace, on school grounds or in public places such as the park or beach.
Sen. Randy Iwase (D-Waipio Gentry, Wahiawa) said he was apprehensive that the bill would circumvent the Federal Drug Administration process intended to protect public health and safety.
"One would hope and expect that if we are going to approve medical marijuana, that the FDA has approved it," he said. "While it may help a few . I don't think it will help the many."
But Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley (D-E. Maui, N. Kauai) cited a recent federal study that supported marijuana for medical use in certain limited circumstances.
"Patients should not be punished just to spite drug reform supporters," he said.
Chumbley also said children can and should be taught the difference between medicine and illicit drugs.
Police officer's view
Honolulu Police Maj. Susan Dowsett of the Narcotics/Vice Division later said it would be difficult for officers to pinpoint and move against unlawful uses of marijuana. Dowsett said the Legislature should have waited for the federal regulatory process "just like you do for any other drug that shows promise."
But Pamela Lichty, vice president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said the bill would help many people - most of them elderly - who have long been suffering from debilitating conditions.
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