Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Hawaii Medical Marijuana News
No pot task force this year
2 lawmakers say Lingle is ignoring Legislature' s intent with decision
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Posted on: Monday, September 14, 2009
The Lingle administration has chosen not to convene a medical marijuana
task force that was opposed by Gov. Linda Lingle, a decision two state
lawmakers believe ignores the intent of the state Legislature.
The administration at first cited fiscal limitations and then priorities
at the state Department of Public Safety as reasons for not going
forward this year with a task force established by state law.
State Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), and state Rep. Joe
Bertram III, D-11th (Makena, Wailea, Kihei), believe the administration
has disregarded a law the governor was against.
Hawai'i is one of 13 states that allow medical marijuana, but patients
and their primary caregivers have to grow their own supply or otherwise
purchase the drug in the criminal market. Lawmakers believe a medical
marijuana task force is necessary to study the obstacles patients
encounter when trying to obtain the drug to ease cancer, glaucoma,
HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, severe nausea and seizures.
Lingle vetoed the bill that created the medical marijuana task force and
a second task force to study whether the state should regulate salvia
divinorum, a psychedelic herb. The governor said the state should not
recommend ways to increase marijuana use or production until federal
law, which prohibits marijuana, is changed. She said salvia divinorum
could be added to the state's list of controlled substances without
having a task force.
The governor also said the task forces would redirect manpower and
resources from the Department of Public Safety. The department would be
required to submit reports on medical marijuana and salvia divinorum to
the Legislature before the next session in January.
But the state House and Senate overrode Lingle's veto, so the bill
Lingle has previously opposed the expansion of the state's medical
marijuana program, citing the conflict between state and federal laws.
Under the Bush administration, the U.S. Department of Justice policy was
to actively prosecute marijuana distributors even in states that had
legalized marijuana for medical use. In March, new U.S. Attorney General
Eric Holder announced that the federal government would not target
medical marijuana patients or distributors who were following state
"It's just unfortunate, at this stage, that the governor has decided to
ignore the law," Espero said, adding that the governor is making a
policy decision, not a budget decision.
"In this case, that's what it appears like, because there was no
appropriation attached to the bill," he said. "And in the Legislature' s
opinion, it's not going to take a whole lot of money to convene this
task force and get the stakeholders engaged."
Lingle has clear discretion under state law to restrict spending
approved by the Legislature in order to manage the state's budget. The
governor, for example, said this summer that she would not release money
for Keiki Care, a basic children's health care program, even though
lawmakers overrode her veto of the bill. The governor explained that the
state did not have the money for the program because of the budget
In August, Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy adviser, informed a West
O'ahu AIDS activist interested in serving on the medical marijuana task
force that the task force would not be formed because of "current fiscal
limitations. " This month, Smith said in an e-mail to Espero that the
task force would not be convened but did not cite a reason.
Russell Pang, a Lingle spokesman, said Friday that the administration
was prioritizing its limited resources. The Department of Public Safety
is in the process of closing Kulani Correctional Facility on the Big
Island, reintegrating women inmates brought home from the Mainland, and
identifying potential layoffs and spending restrictions because of the
"We are making a priority decision," Pang said of the medical marijuana
The Legislative Reference Bureau has completed a report, also required
by the new law, on how other states that have legalized medical
marijuana have handled access, distribution and security issues.
Policies in 3 states
The bureau found that only three states — California, New Mexico and
Rhode Island — have policies and procedures to address these issues.
California allows cooperatives and collectives, regulated by local
government, to cultivate medical marijuana. New Mexico licenses private
nonprofit medical marijuana distributors, but only one nonprofit has
been licensed so far. Rhode Island agreed this summer to license private
nonprofit distributors at so-called "compassion centers."
Espero and Bertram said they plan to form a working group that would
carry out the intent of the medical marijuana task force.
"These people have been waiting since 2000 to get their medicine. And
they've faced so much," Bertram, who uses marijuana for medical
purposes, said of many patients. "It's absurd to say 'just go to the
back of the line.' "
Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honolulua dvertiser. com.
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