Gov. Abercrombie signs medical marijuana bills
On Tuesday, June 25, 2013, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed two bills sent to him by the legislature that affect the state’s medical marijuana program, the first bills amending the program in its 13-year history. One of the bills will ensure that health professionals will run the program, but the other could result in a substantial portion of patients no longer qualifying for the program.
H.B. 668, C.D. 1 transfers jurisdiction of the medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Public Health and creates a “Medical Marijuana Registry Fund” to administer the program. This noncontroversial measure means that health professionals – as opposed to law enforcement – have control of the program. The departments are already working on the transfer, which must take place before January 1, 2015.
Meanwhile, S.B. 642, C.D. 1 will make both positive and negative changes to the state’s medical marijuana law. The amount of usable marijuana a patient may possess will be increased from three to four ounces and the mature/immature definitions will be removed, allowing patients to have seven plants at any stage of growth. Unfortunately, the bill will also change the law to only allow a patient’s primary care physician to recommend medical marijuana. Because many doctors – including Veterans Administration physicians – will not recommend medical marijuana, this could result in a dramatic drop in the number of patients if it is not revised. This law will not take effect until January 2, 2015, and advocates will work to fix this.
A huge thanks is due to The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, ACLU of Hawai’i, Fresh Approach Hawaii, and Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii for their hands-on advocacy work in Honolulu.
Hawaiians support ending marijuana prohibition; House speaker proposes doing so
The Drug Policy Action Group and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii recently commissioned QMark Research to poll voter attitudes towards marijuana policy in Hawaii. The poll found that 78% support a dispensary system for medical marijuana, 69% think that jail time for marijuana offenses is inappropriate, and an overwhelming 57% favor legalizing marijuana for adults and regulating it like alcohol. This last number is 20% higher than the last poll conducted in 2005.
In addition to polling, an economic analysis was commissioned from University of Hawaii economist David Nixon. Dr. Nixon estimates that Hawaii could redirect $9 million annually if it stopped arresting individuals for marijuana possession. Additionally, Hawaii could generate tax revenues of up to $11 million annually if the state legalized, regulated, and taxed the sale of marijuana to adults.
Hawaii legislators had an opportunity to take a fiscally sound approach to marijuana policy this year. Speaker of the House Joe Souki sponsored H.B. 699, which would create a state-legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana market that could legally sell to adults 21 and older. While it wasn’t brought to a vote this year, the speaker’s bill can be considered in 2014 — the second year of Hawaii’s two-year legislative session. Meanwhile, a bill to replace the current criminal penalties for possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana with a civil fine advanced out of the Senate — unanimously — but was not called to a vote in the House. Like H.B. 699, S.B. 472 can be considered again next year. You can ask your legislators to support ending the costly and futile prohibition of marijuana or to impose a fine — rather than criminal penalties and possible jail time — on responsible marijuana consumers.
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