Kona Judge Convicts Legal Medical Marijuana Patient For 1 Gram

Approximately 20 members of Friends for Justice, a Big Island medical marijuana advocacy group, were in a Kona courtroom yesterday to support legal medical marijuana patient Geoff  “Woody” Woodhall.

Deputy Chief District Court Judge  Joseph P. Florendo, Jr., found Mr. Woodhall guilty of 3rd degree promotion of a detrimental drug resulting from having roughly one gram of marijuana in his possession while passing through the Kona airport.

In a motion to dismiss the case, Mr. Woodhall and the prosecutor stipulated to the fact that Woodhall had a valid blue card and a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana for medical reasons. He had possession of the marijuana (though he was not using the marijuana in public) while he was traveling to Oahu. He had brought a small amount of his legal medicine — about 1 gram of marijuana with him for medical reasons.

Friends for Justice with Woody (center kneeling) at Kona court house

Public defender Sherry Lawson told judge Florendo that Woodhall intended to appeal the conviction. A $50.00 fine plus another $280.00 in court ordered fees were suspended pending the appeal.

Friends for Justice had been aware of the case for several months and provided moral support to Woodhall during his trial.

This ruling was in stark contrast to 2 other local medical marijuana cases.

In December, 2010, Hilo District Court Judge Barbara Takase  dismissed similar charges against defendants Donna Goldsworthy and Alan R. Lee, using a similar motion and set of stipulations.

In the Hilo cases, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Son said the state would likely appeal the decision by judge Takase.

It appears likely both the opposing rulings are headed to the Hawaii appellate courts where hopefully medical patients will finally get the protection that other patients have to take there medication with them when they travel.

More than 9,000 people in the state of Hawaii have received a physician’s recommendation to legally grow and use marijuana. Judge Florendo said that a reasonable person would read the statute to mean you can not take your medical marijuana with you when you travel.  The judge is saying in effect that you can only use your medicine in your home. He did say you could transport it from the care giver to your home, but nowhere else.

Are these 9,000 plus Hawaii patients suppose to leave their illnesses at home when they travel? How is that reasonable? Or are they suppose to risk their lives and arrest going to the back alleys of the places they travel to buy marijuana on the black market? They will not be in their homes at all when they travel, so if they use their medicine they should be subject to arrest, according to the logic of judge Florendo.

Judge Florendo acknowledged the law is not clear and as such he should have found in favor of the defendant and dismissed the case. He must err in favor of the defendant.

The ruling made little sense to the truly reasonable mind in my opinion. Judge Florendo clearly does not like the medical marijuana laws, but he is not a doctor and he is in essence telling patients they must suffer with their disease if they want to travel.

Some of the patients could suffer seizures or other reactions maybe even die. Many will be in pain without the legal doctor recommended medicine. Friends for Justice finds his ruling cruel, misinformed, beyond his expertise, and absolutely unreasonable. In our view any reasonable person would allow sick people to take their medical marijuana with them just as any other doctor approved medication. Judge Florendo and Hawaii prosecutors are singling marijuana out as the only medication that a legal patient can not travel with. That is not only unreasonable it is discriminatory and makes no sense what so ever. The ruling is not based in science — it is based in reefer madness, and that is the law of the land in Kona and in Hawaii county, according to judge Florendo. Clearly judge Takase is more rational and informed than her counterpart.

Medical Cannabis advocates in Hawaii have been fighting for years for a safe, regulated distribution system. The legislature bears responsibility to increase the amount of marijuana patients can possess, and to clarify the law.  But after almost a decade Hawaii’s lawmakers have failed to protect the most vulnerable of Hawaii’s residents, the medical marijuana patient.

Advocate Matt Rifkin, a member of the Medical Cannabis Working Group set up by the state Legislature, said legal medical marijuana patients have been arrested and prosecuted for years in Hawaii county.

Most have been intimidated into taking plea bargains, and paying the fines rather than risk the implied harsher penalties that they could be subject to if they decide to plead not guilty and ask for a trial. State law allows  blue card medical marijuana patients to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana. Transportation of marijuana for medical use is specifically protected, according to a manual put out by the state Department of Public Safety Narcotics Enforcement Division. This comes directly from information given to patients:

The Hawaii’s law states, however, that the “acquisition, possession, cultivation, use, distribution (defined as only the transfer of marijuana and paraphernalia from the primary caregiver to the qualifying patient), or transportation of marijuana for medicinal use is specifically protected.”

None of the patients were using the marijuana in these cases they were simply traveling with their legal medicine. Here is the section Judge Florendo cited in convicting Geoff Woodhall.

Does Not Allow the Use of Medical Marijuana in a Public Place, Workplace or in a Moving Vehicle. Even with a doctor’s certification, the Act specifically prohibits use of medical marijuana in any bus or moving vehicle, in the workplace, on school grounds, any use that endangers the health or well being of another person, or in any public place.

Again the law clearly states the word USE. Woody was not “using” his medicine in public — he was transporting it.  He has a qualifying condition, a doctors recommendation , and a state issued blue card. The state in reality by its own actions lead Woody to believe he had an affirmative defense, effectively entrapping him . The patient is being punished for the state’s failure to address the issue properly.

Judge Florendo’s conviction and ruling is not reasonable by the reading of the law or common sense. A drug conviction is not to be taken lightly and can follow these patients the rest of their lives, affecting their employment and other opportunities in a very negative way.

Governor  Ben Cayetano signed into law the Hawaii Medical Marijuana Act after the legislature approved it in 2000.  Hawaii was the first state to enact a medical marijuana program legislatively. You can not just start using marijuana because you want too or think it might help you, there is a bureaucratic process you must complete to become a medical marijuana patient in Hawaii.  You have to have a qualifying medical condition, including glaucoma, seizures, HIV, AIDS, severe nausea, pain or muscle spasms.  Your condition has to be documented in your medical records.  You have to see a doctor that can document your condition.  You may have to transfer your medical records, if your current doctor does not participate in the program (many don’t for fear of retribution by the government). Woody did all these things then the state detained him, arrested him, prosecuted him and convicted him. What else could he have possibly done to comply with Hawaii’s medical marijuana law?

In Hawaii the medical marijuana program is overseen by the state Department of Public Safety — the same people that oversee law enforcement, prisons and jails. Most states with medical marijuana programs have the Department of Health run the program. By having law enforcement oversee the program Hawaii has created an adversarial process for the physicians and patients that are using the program. The wait right now to get your blue card is up to 6 months. After your doctors submits your application the NED issues a temporary letter that states you are clear to use marijuana, but they are expiring before patients receive the blue card, leaving them subject to arrest. Over 5000 patients live on the Big Island and as the cases above show, these patients have every reason to fear arrest and prosecution. That is not right. How can anyone respect law enforcement or a justice system that does this?

Under judge Florendo’s ruling, Woody and the other patients would have to know a drug dealer everywhere they go in order to get their medical marijuana.  The reason they registered is they don’t want to do something illegal. They want to be legal. Instead they are being prosecuted for no legitimate reason. They are being targeted in an overt effort to subvert Hawaii’s medical marijuana program.

These judges and the administrators are not doctors — they are law enforcement, and it shows. Law enforcement has no business making or policing medical decisions. Law enforcement has lead the fight to prevent any reform or changes to the existing medical marijuana laws in Hawaii, and are unfairly arresting and prosecuting law abiding citizens because they do not like the law.

The medical marijuana program in Hawaii must be moved from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health. The legislature and the courts have no choice but to correct this injustice that is occurring on a regular basis, not only to law abiding citizens, but to the weakest of our people, those that have any number of serious even debilitating illnesses.

If anyone knows of a medical patient targeted in Hawaii county that would like trial support they can contact Friends for Justice through our ad on this site. You are invited to join Friends for Justice as a courtroom observer and help provide court support to patients, contact us for the upcoming court dates and meetings.