One would decriminalize marijuana, another would allow for grow facilities
Several bills that would amend Hawaii's medical marijuana law, and one that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug, are moving through the state Legislature.
Reps. Faye Hanohano, D-Puna, and Mark Nakashima, D-Kohala, Hamakua, Hilo, have both supported the bills in the House Public Safety Committee. They now await action in the House Judiciary Committee.
The bills are:
-- House Bill 1635, which would strengthen the record-keeping procedures for physicians who prescribe marijuana for medical uses;
-- House Bill 226, which would allow qualifying patients to possess up to 12 marijuana plants and seven ounces of usable marijuana;
-- House Bill 1191, which creates a medical marijuana distribution stamp system and allows for a secure growing facility to grow marijuana for no more than 14 qualifying patients; and
-- House Bill 1192, which makes the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil offense, subject to a $100 fine.
"In the economy we are in right now, we don't have the resources to keep people in prison," Hanohano said. "This is one way, to me, to look at it."
In addition to a civil fine, those under 18 years of age would also be required to complete a drug awareness program.
Whether any of these bills will make it into law is unknown. Even if the Legislature passes it, Gov. Linda Lingle still has the power to veto it. In 2008, Lingle vetoed a bill establishing a task force that would have looked into increasing the number of plants available for patients and the feasibility of establishing marijuana growing facilities on each island, among other things.
"This bill is objectionable because it is an exercise aimed at finding ways to circumvent federal law," Lingle wrote at the time. "The use of marijuana, even medical marijuana, is illegal under federal law."
Hanohano co-sponsored HB 226 with Maui Rep. Joe Bertram III, which raises the number of marijuana plants a patient can possess. Currently, the medical marijuana certificate allows a patient to have only three mature plants, four immature plants and one ounce of usable marijuana per plant. Under the new bill, there is no requirement that any of the marijuana plants be immature.
The Public Safety Committee voted 10-2 to approve the bill as submitted; Nakashima voted aye with reservations. The Judiciary Committee, which includes Reps. Bob Herkes and Clift Tsuji, has not taken any action.
The Legislature approved Hawaii's medical marijuana law in 2000, but it does not provide any legal way for patients to obtain the plants.
HB 1191 would solve this problem by allowing the creation of a "secure growing facility" on agricultural-zoned land "to provide a secure space for the cultivation of medical marijuana and may charge and receive rent from a certified facilitator for the lease of the secure growing facility."
The bill limits these facilities to 14 qualifying patients and 98 marijuana plants. Each facility would have "security technology that is capable of relaying live video and still images to local police stations," guard animals on patrol and double fencing.
"A lot of patients haven't been able to get it because of the distribution system," Hanohano said. "It follows the 2004 Legislative Bureau recommendation, so this is what the bill is following."
Hanohano was referring to a 2004 report of the Legislative Reference Bureau, which found that "Hawaii's law, as written, does not allow a distribution system that can be realistically complied with by everyone. On the other hand, a practical distribution system would preclude many of the ambiguities now facing local and state agencies in distinguishing between legal and illegal marijuana use."
Finally, HB 1635 requires physicians authorized to recommend the medical use of marijuana to maintain a record of each written certificate issued, for five years.
It makes illegal the refusal of physicians to withhold "any record, written certification, statement, or information in patient charts" from the state. Any physician who prescribes marijuana to a person "without a bona fide physician patient relationship" would also be breaking the law. The bill also requires that the physician do a physical examination of the patient. All violations would become a class - felony.
Other bills relating to marijuana have not gotten anywhere since they were introduced in the Legislature.
House Bill 1193, for example, would make laws relating to marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority. The language of the bill is similar to an ordinance that Hawaii County voters passed in the last election.
House Bill 967, also introduced by Hanohano, Bertram and House Speaker Calvin Say, changes all references to "medical marijuana" into "medical cannabis," transfers the program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health and protects licensed growers from arrest.
According to the bill, the Department of Health would be better equipped to protect privacy rights because "in June 2008 the Department of Public Safety violated patients' privacy by mistakenly releasing private patient information to a reporter for the Hawaii Tribune-Herald."
by Peter Sur
February 16, 2009