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Create system for distributing medical marijuana


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POSTED: Friday, March 20, 2009

MEDICAL patients who rely on marijuana to ease pain won a major victory this week in protection promised by the Obama administration. Attorney General Eric Holder said threatened federal interference with laws in Hawaii and a dozen other states allowing medical use of marijuana has come to an end. The state should work toward a system facilitating that legitimate use.

As former President Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft ordered raids of medical dispensaries in California that provided marijuana to patients legally under that state's law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the federal government may prosecute medical users of marijuana for violating federal drug laws despite state laws permitting that use.

The ruling upholding the Bush administration's zero-tolerance policy has had little effect in states other than California, because most drug cases are prosecuted at the state level. The issue has not reached federal courts in Hawaii.

From now on, Holder told reporters that the policy will be “;to go after those people who violate both federal and state law, to the extent that people do that and try to use medical marijuana laws as a shield for activity that is not designed to comport with what the intention was of the state law. Those are the organizations, the people, that we will target.”;

More than 1,000 residents have been registered with the state to use marijuana to treat their illnesses since the state legalized it for that use in 2000. Certification by a doctor is required for registration, and patients are limited in the amount of marijuana they may possess. Marijuana is credited with easing pain for those suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other diseases.

Registered patients have complained about the difficulty in obtaining access to marijuana or even seeds or facilities to grow their own. In November, police arrested seven Maui residents accused of using medical marijuana laws as a front for drug trafficking. The group maintains that the marijuana was to be distributed to 300 members of Patients Without Time who are qualified to use it medically.

A bill introduced by Rep. Joe Bertram of Maui that would allow operations for growing marijuana for distribution to as many as 14 patients has been endorsed by two state House committees in the current session. The Lingle administration has opposed the bill, citing the Supreme Court decision upholding the federal law banning any possession of marijuana.

The Obama administration's decision to exempt marijuana for medical purposes from the sweeping federal ban should cause the state to reconsider its stance on a secure distribution system like that proposed by Bertram. Without such a system, the Hawaii law allowing medical use of marijuana would continue to be crippled.