On December 28th, the last bureaucratic obstacle to the legal use of marijuana for medical reasons in Hawaii fell when regulations approved by Gov. Ben Cayetano a week earlier went into effect (http://swat.state.hi.us/Chapter%2023-202.pdf).
It is still too soon, though, for the first "certified" medical marijuana patient to have appeared, because doctors requesting the certification packets are just getting them in hand. The state Department of Public Safety has not made the certification forms available online -- at physicians' request, it says -- so doctors are waiting for them to arrive by mail.
Still, the date is historic, marking as it does the fruition of Hawaii's unique path to medical marijuana. The Aloha State is the only state to legalize medical use through the legislative process. Eight states have done so by citizen initiative, including Nevada and Colorado, who joined those ranks in the November elections.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that 17 doctors had requested the certification forms on day one.
According to Pamela Lichty,
president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and a member
of the Drug Policy Forum
"This is a small place and people are nervous -- decidedly not like California," she told DRCNet. "We don't know of any patient who has been authorized yet, and we don't know who the doctors are who are requesting the forms, except for an ex-board member of ours on the Big Isle, Dr. Bill Wenner."
Wenner has been an outspoken advocate of medical marijuana who recommended it to patients without waiting for the regulations.
According to Keith Kamita, administrator of the Public Safety Department's narcotics division, which will run the program, the operation should run smoothly. After patients pay a $25 annual fee, his office will review the application to make sure the physician is registered and authorized to administer controlled substances, and to make sure the check clears, Kamita told the Star-Bulletin.
"If everything is correct, we can turn an application around in five working days, but the law gives us a leeway of 60 days," he said.
Once approved by Public Safety, patients will receive a temporary license enabling them to legally possess up to three ounces of marijuana, three mature plants and four immature plants, Kamita said.
The role of a law enforcement agency in administering the medical marijuana program gives Lichty cause for concern. Hawaii is the only state to opt for a police agency instead of a health agency to run its medical marijuana program. And despite Kamita's pledge that the program will run smoothly, Lichty tells DRCNet, "The head of the program, Keith Kamita, is the problem since he's hostile to the whole idea. His boss, Ted Sakai, chief of the department, has been very supportive and flexible, but then he was appointed by the governor."
Lichty said medical marijuana supporters will continue to pressure Sakai to ensure that the agency runs the program in good faith. "We've told him people are watching to see how they do since they're the only law enforcement entity in the states involved with medical marijuana."
By press time, Sakai had not responded to an e-mail request for comment from DRCNet.
Other than that, reformers had little to complain about. At public hearings and in conferences, they managed to remove most of the undesirable provisions in the initial proposed regulations in November (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/158.html#hawaiiaction).
"Yes, the rules are pretty good; they took out virtually all of the objectionable parts," Lichty told DRCNet. "Problems still remain with the form for registration itself, which is overlong and very intimidating, with a reference to the fact that it's still illegal under federal law. That's purposefully ambiguous."
But, Lichty wrote, reformers intend to meet soon with Sakai to address those and other minor problems. Whether those final concerns are met or not, legal medical marijuana has come to Hawaii.