HB 668 Passes Joint Committee

UPDATED

HB 668, the bill to move Hawaii’s medical cannabis program to the Department of Health, passed the Senate joint committee of Health and Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs.  All Senators present voted Yes, with Senator Sam Slom voting Yes with Reservation.
The bill now moves to the final Senate joint committee of Judiciary and Ways and Means.

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The Senate Health and Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs (PSM) Committees have scheduled a hearing for HB 668, H.D. 2, a bill that would move the jurisdiction of the medical cannabis program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health.

The hearing is taking place next Wednesday, March 20, at 3:00 pm in room 229.

All testimony must be in by 5:00 pm on Tuesday.

Over the past 13 years, the Narcotics Enforcement Division (NED) has not shown that it is qualified to manage a public health program:

The NED does not maintain a website on the program and has limited and hard to find information about the program on its current website.

Such Information is necessary for patients, caregivers, and physicians trying to stay within the law.

The NED does no public health outreach to inform qualifying patients of the existence of the program.

Instead it works from an enforcement and control posture that is inconsistent with managing a health program.

The NED requires physicians to obtain application forms for patients whereas other states (e.g. Oregon and Colorado) provide and accept forms from patients themselves and post the blank forms on their websites.

In the past, the NED has violated patient confidentiality and put Hawaii’s sick people at risk by releasing the names and addresses of the registered patients, caregivers and physicians to the media.

Hawaii’s Medical Cannabis program is a health program, not a narcotics enforcement program:

The medical cannabis program is a public health program conceived out of concern for the health of the seriously ill. It belongs in Hawaii’s Department of Health.

Of the 18 states plus District of Columbia which have medical marijuana programs, only Hawai‘i and Vermont house them in a law enforcement agency. Other states have placed the program in a state health department.

Placement in the NED is antithetical to the legislative intent of the measure and to the stated mission of the NED; it is a public health program intended to serve the seriously ill.

Many patients, caregivers, and physicians are intimidated by dealing with a narcotics enforcement agency; they therefore do not register and face the threat of arrest by state or local authorities.

The program’s placement in NED is in part responsible for the reluctance of many physicians to certify patients. Physicians are concerned that their program applications are reviewed by the same entity that deals with the Drug Enforcement Agency daily on issues of over-prescribing, “doctor shopping” and the like.

The law requires DOH to set up a protocol for adding new covered medical conditions for which research indicates that cannabis may be helpful. This provision is in current law, but has never been implemented. This is the only part of the medical marijuana law for which DOH is responsible. If the entire program were housed in DOH, it would be more likely to activate this provision. Medical research has advanced in the past 13 years and there are many new conditions/ailments/diseases for which medical cannabis has been shown to be helpful.


 

Charlie Cook is an organizer for the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawai‘i

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