As Drug War Chronicle has previously reported, Hawaii has the nation's highest incidence of methamphetamine abuse. It also has medical marijuana. And it has the Rev. Jonathan Adler of the Religion of Jesus Church-East Hawaii Branch (http://www.sacramedicine.com and http://www.medijuana.com). Mix these three facts together, add in some legislative action, and you could have the recipe for the nation's first state-approved effort to use marijuana to treat meth addiction.
That's what's going on in the Aloha State right now, as a bill championed by Rev. Adler and supported by powerful House Judiciary Chair Eric Hamakawa (D-Hilo) moves through the legislative process. The bill, SB3139, would permit "a section 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, including a church whose sacraments include the use of marijuana, to be a distributor for persons using medical marijuana and to treat qualifying patients who are addicted to crystal methamphetamine if certain conditions are met." The bill has already passed a first reading in the Senate and is now before the Health and Judiciary committees.
The bill is the brainchild of Adler, whose unstinting support of medical marijuana and marijuana as a holy sacrament has made him the bane of politicians in the Aloha State. So has his reputation as a "wild man of weed," so to speak, which has also distanced him from more than a few other activists. In the mid-1990s, Adler and his Hawaii Medical Marijuana Institute began offering medical marijuana under the state's comatose 1977 law. Adler's agit-prop activities drew publicity for the cause, but they also drew the interest of police. Although Adler claimed a religious right to use the drug, he was arrested in 1998. He walked away from his first trial a free man after the jury, citing confusion over his religious use claims, declared itself unable to reach a verdict.
But his legal luck didn't hold. Adler was eventually convicted on the 1998 charge and another from 1999 and sentenced to six-months in prison, a stint he served last year. That sentence effectively ended his gubernatorial bid as the candidate of the Natural Law Party. But both before doing his time and since, Adler has stayed on course and on message.
Now, after months of exposure to jailed ice users -- "ice" is the common term for meth in Hawaii, where it is typically smoked -- he wants to bring the healing power of the herb to the state's burgeoning methamphetamine-using population. "I was in jail for six months, and 90% of my fellow prisoners were ice addicts," Adler told DRCNet. "They were smoking in the jail at 3:00am. I came out committed to rehabilitate the ice users and the law." Medical marijuana is "a multi-purpose therapeutic aid" that can do a better job of treating ice users than current programs, Adler said. "Here in Hawaii, current treatment programs have a 95% failure rate. I think what these addicts need is education, occupation, and medication." His church program, called "Breaking the Ice," would provide all three, he added.
While there are no studies of the therapeutic effect of marijuana on methamphetamine users, studies of its use in treating crack users have returned promising results. In a Brazilian study, researchers followed crack users who turned to pot to break their addiction. After nine months, they reported, "most of the subjects ceased to use crack and reported that the use of cannabis had reduced their craving symptoms, and produced subjective and concrete changes in their behavior, helping them to overcome crack addiction." In another study from Jamaica, researchers followed 33 crack-smoking women for nine months and found that "cannabis cigarettes ("spliffs") constitute the cheapest, most effective, and readily available therapy for discontinuing crack consumption."
"It could work," said Dr. Ethan Russo, Senior Medical Advisor to British pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceutical's Cannabinoid Research Institute. GW is the maker of Sativex, a sublingual cannabinoid medicine. "Cannabis is helpful for a variety of addictions, and the mechanisms of crack and meth are quite comparable."
In fact, Russo told DRCNet, a century ago, cannabis was seen as a cure for addiction to other substances. "Historically, in the 19th Century, cannabis was frequently used to treat cocaine and morphine addiction and alcoholism," he explained. "There is a famous book from the beginning of the last century called 'Narcomania,' which described all of the addictive substances, from cocaine to caffeine, morphine to nicotine. The only context in which cannabis was mentioned was as a treatment for addiction to other drugs."
Despite Adler's reputation, he has also earned the respect, or at least the notice, of some politicians, including Rep. Hamakawa. "How can a guy who has smoked on TV at least 10 times, been arrested, showed cops how to smoke medical marijuana, and more get taken seriously?" Adler asked. "He knows I'm sincere, that's why. He is my local representative, and I caught up with him at our local ice summit, and he agreed to do it for me. Hamakawa is not going to use up his own political capital to vocally support this, but he came through on getting it filed."
Hamakawa has also come through with another bill dear to Adler, HB2669, which would allow for religious use of marijuana: "Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the religious use of marijuana shall be permitted by a bona fide clergy practitioner or a qualifying religious member-practitioner" if that use harms no one else, if it takes place during a religious service in a designated religious structure, if it involves fewer than 10 mature plants, 15 immature plants, or an ounce of usable pot, and if the use is limited to religious purposes.
"This is a piggyback bill to SB3139, which will clarify the religious exemptions for marijuana," Adler explained. "This is the Hawaii Medical Marijuana Institute's effort to register as legal distributors in the state of Hawaii. We had essentially the same bill last year; that one specifically mentioned the Religion of Jesus Church—East Hawaii, but this one is more general."
That bill has also passed its first reading and is headed for the House Judiciary chaired by Rep. Hamakawa, the man who introduced it. But a hearing is unlikely without a showing of support from others besides Adler -- Adler reported that he had again spoken with Rep. Hamakawa, who told him he would not give the religious exemption bill a hearing unless he hears from constituents and others that a hearing should be granted.
The read the meth treatment bill (SB3139) and the religious exemption bill (HB2669) online, go to http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/site1/docs/docs.asp?press1=docs and type in the bill number in the search box.
Hamakawa can be contacted at: Rep. Eric G. Hamakawa, 3rd Representative District, Hawaii State Capitol, Room 302, 415 South Beretania Street, Honolulu, HI 96813, phone: (808) 586-8480, fax: (808) 586-8484, from the Big Island toll free at 974-4000 + 68480, or e-mail to [email protected].
Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/320/hawaii.shtml for DRCNet coverage of the Hawaii methamphetamine task force report.