In early December 1998, Governor Benjamin Cayetano, recently re-elected by a slender margin of 5,000 votes, announced that he intended to introduce legislation on three highly controversial issues in Hawai'i: domestic partnerships, euthanasia, and medicinal marijuana.
Following this announcement, the Governor met with Pam Lichty and Don Topping of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai'i, and Chuck Thomas of the Marijuana Policy Project. During this meeting, the Governor appeared determined to follow through, asked very good questions, and requested that DPFH work with his Attorney General and Director of Health to work on draft legislation.
While Chuck Thomas was in Honolulu, he joined Lichty and Topping at meetings with key legislators, i.e. Chairs of the Health Committees for the House and Senate; Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and key staffers of the co-chairs of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The chairs of both health committees said that they would introduce a bill on medicinal marijuana in their respective houses. The judiciary committees took a more restrained, although somewhat supportive position.
On December 17, board members of DPFH met with the AG's representative and Director of Health, during which the AG's rep made it clear that his boss opposed the idea regardless of the Governor's position, claiming that she (the AG) "served the people, not the governor." It was also hinted at the meeting that the head of the State Narcotics Control Division would authorize his officers to make arrests under federal law should such legislation pass the state legislature.
An independent poll taken in Hawai'i in September shows that 63% of Hawaii's voters support medicinal marijuana.
DPFH has already received commitments from several patients and physicians who will testify in favor of the bill. DPFH is also working with MPP and others in the reform movement on this issue. DPFH expects opposition to this bill from city, state and federal law enforcement groups, and various other groups who support current drug policy.
The coming session of the Hawai'i State Legislature marks the beginning of a two-year legislative period. Thus, even if the proposed bill for medicinal marijuana fails to make it through both houses, it will still be alive for the session that begins in January, 2000.