Hawaii has become the first state in the nation to decriminalize medical marijuana through the legislative process. Under a bill signed June 14 by Gov. Ben Cayetano, a Democrat, sick Hawaiians with their doctors' approval may grow, possess and use marijuana without facing state criminal penalties.
Seven states and the District of Colombia have passed medical marijuana measures, but all of them came as a result of citizen-inspired initiatives. But because only half of the states have an initiative process, Hawaii's legislation is seen as extremely significant. As Chuck Thomas of the Marijuana Policy Project elaborated to the Associated Press, "The second wave of the campaign to protect medical marijuana users is underway. The first wave was the passage of ballot initiatives, the second is state legislation and the third will be federal legislation."
Donald Topping of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, who spearheaded the grassroots campaign, told the AP, "This may give other states the courage to proceed," adding, "I think the fear of being soft of drugs is beginning to fade now with this kind of legislation being passed."
Despite broad popular support as indicated by polls, elected officials have shied away from supporting medical marijuana. But, NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup told CNN, "We think this will be the start of a series of states over the next two or three years."
Through this vote, Hawaii has now joined other states that have approved medical marijuana in that twilight zone where state and federal law conflict. Federal government intransigence on the issue has thwarted efforts in other states.
And there are other problems. The bill signed into law leaves the buying and selling of marijuana as criminal offenses. Approved medical marijuana patients thus operate in a gray area, where they can grow or possess the weed, but be prosecuted for obtaining it from others.
Coincidentally, the Western Governor's Association was in town while Hawaii made marijuana history, and drug reform talk infected their convention as well. At the session's opening press conference on June 12, New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson's outspoken criticism of the drug war turned a review of issues into a lively, if not always illuminating debate.
Disturbed by Johnson's advocacy of an approach similar to the Netherlands, Idaho Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was moved to explain how his state had passed legislation allowing toilet-bowl residue to be used to send methamphetamine producers to prison. Meth manufacturers mix their drugs in toilet bowls for easy disposal in the event of a raid, he explained.
But Johnson wasn't completely isolated. The association accepted a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to study drug prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation. In discussing the grant, Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer told the Associated Press that states need to revisit the emphasis on law enforcement. "This isn't a contest to see who can be toughest on crime," he said. "This is a reevaluation and redirection of resources."