Hawaii Medical Marijuana Bills: Thoughts on the Punitive Nature of HB1963 and SB2026

The law enforcement community, when making presentations in public, has focused on the fact that 97% of Medical Marijuana patients are qualified because of chronic pain. They have implied this number is too high, and I think HB 1963, and its sister bill in the Senate, SB 2026, are their attempt to drastically reduce the number of patients in the state of Hawaii.

I have spoken with Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, and I think we share the same basic understanding. I have heard from three doctors. Two think there is no change, and the third feels the law changes, but interprets it a bit differently. I am checking with other national organizations to get their take on it.

The fact that there is so much confusion is a red flag. If no one can agree on what it means, how will it be enforced?

This is my understanding of how the law would change if passed:

Let’s say you work in construction, landscaping, housekeeping or other manual labor. After a long day at work, when you are at home, you prefer medical cannabis instead of Tylenol to ease your muscle pain. Since your pain is a result of your work, and not from a “debilitating medical condition,” you would no longer qualify for the medical cannabis program in the state of Hawai’i. If your pain was the result of a fused disc or chronic arthritis, you would still qualify.

With HB1963, there are other changes in Hawaii’s Medical Marijuana law that seem designed to scare patients, impose harsher penalties and punish the vast majority of patients by blaming them for the violations committed by a small minority.

Additional examples of the punitive nature of HB 1963 (and SB 2026)

The current law allows the department of health to add new qualifying conditions–but they have never even tried to set up a panel to process requests from physicians or patients. HB 1963 would require the Hawaii state legislature to approve new qualifying conditions (after the Department of Health submits a request). So, instead of trained doctors of medicine, the state legislators would have the final say in which new conditions are added.

The law would limit the number of blue cards at any single property to three. That implies that any group of four or more patients living together (for any reason) are inclined to grow too much medical cannabis and divert it to the black market. In Hawaii County, many parcels of land are large and extended families often live together. Can every one of them be breaking the law?

Not letting a felon become a caregiver could be quite harsh. Is the state going to restrict all former felons, or only ones convicted of commercial distribution? Should every felon be prohibited from growing their own medicine on the off chance they might violate the state’s Cannabis laws? That seems very broad.

If a patient violates any section of the “conditions of use” they may be suspended for up to three years from Hawaii’s Medical Cannabis (marijuana) program. The “conditions of use” is poorly written and prohibits “medical use” in a public place, and it makes no difference whether you are transporting it or actually using it. This is how the police and prosecutors are arresting and charging patients for traveling with their medicine. There are cases in the state appellate court which may clarify it. The Narcotics Enforcement Division publishes a guide for patients and physicians that say you are allowed to travel with your medicine. Yet, you could be arrested and lose the medicine of your choice for three years. That is incredibly harsh for a program that is supposed to be about compassion.

The raising of the penalty from a petty misdemeanor to a class C felony for fraudulent misrepresentation in the application form or in statements made to a law enforcement official of any fact or circumstance relating to medical use of marijuana to avoid arrest or prosecution is quite a substantial increase. A class C felony is as if you were arrested for possession of between 1 and 2 pounds of Cannabis, and it carries up to five years in jail and $10,000 fine. Wow! That is serious trouble. It is also absurd.

The bill adds the requirement for physicians to register their place of business if they recommend medical cannabis in addition to other controlled substances.

Taken together, the intentions of HB1963 (and SB2026) seem clear. These bills are terrible.

To submit testimony on HB1963, visit this link: http://capitol.hawaii.gov/submittestimony.aspx

Type in HB1963 (no spaces), then click submit. Fill in the form, especially make sure to click “opposed” and type or upload your testimony.

The deadline is Wednesday February 1st, at 11:15am…late testimony is accepted, so please try to submit something, even if you are past the cut off time.