Thursday, June 16, 2005

Isle marijuana
program still going
despite court ruling

The state plans to continue its medical marijuana program despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week that federal authorities may prosecute patients who use the drug, Attorney General Mark Bennett said.

"An act that is criminalized under federal law is not necessarily a criminal act under state law, and vice versa," Bennett said in a statement released yesterday.

Qualifying patients who use marijuana and doctors who certify them to use the drug do not face state prosecution if they are in compliance with Hawaii's law, Bennett said.

State law allows certified patients to possess up to three mature marijuana plants, four immature plants and an ounce of usable marijuana for each mature plant.

"The State of Hawaii will continue its medical marijuana program," Bennett said. "Medical marijuana users, caregivers and physicians are responsible for making certain they know and strictly comply with state law."

Hawaii is one of 10 states that allow limited use of marijuana to treat debilitating ailments.

Drug Policy Forum Hawaii, an advocacy group that supports the medical marijuana law, applauded Bennett for clarifying the issue.

"We've been fielding a lot of phone calls from patients and doctors who have been confused" over the ruling's implications for Hawaii, said forum President Pamela Lichty. "Mr. Bennett's statement is very straightforward and says the program will continue, and that's the message we want to get out there."

Yesterday, the U.S. House rejected a bid to undercut the Supreme Court's medical marijuana ruling.

By a 264-161 vote, the House turned down an amendment that would have blocked the Justice Department from prosecuting people in the 10 states where the practice is legal.

Although the high court's ruling last week gave federal officials authority to prosecute medical marijuana users, U.S. Attorney Edward Kubo said he did not plan to do so. Cases against drug users are traditionally turned over to state and county authorities for review.

Kubo later added that doctors who merely certify patients to use marijuana also would not be prosecuted unless there are extenuating circumstances. For example, he said doctors who are found to be part of a larger distribution network could face charges.

He originally called the ruling a "death knell" for medical marijuana in Hawaii, saying doctors who prescribe and distribute the drug could face charges the same as any other drug dealer.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii threatened to sue, saying doctors and patients have a constitutional right to discuss the use of marijuana as a form of treatment.

The ACLU backed off its lawsuit threat after Kubo clarified his comments late last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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