Wednesday, February 17, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

House panel OKs
medical patients’ use
of marijuana

Legislature Directory

By Helen Altonn


After several years of debate by Hawaii's legislators, a bill to legalize marijuana for medical purposes has advanced in the House.

"I am feeling encouraged for the first time in a long time," Donald Topping, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said after the measure's passage yesterday by the House Health and Public Safety committees. House Health Chairman Alex Santiago said he felt the testimony showed "it is a compelling health issue." He thanked former state Rep. David Tarnas for spearheading efforts to pass such a bill the past two years.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature Many committee members who voted to forward the bill to the House Judiciary Committee cited reservations they hope will be addressed in further discussions.

Voting against the bill were Reps. David O. Stegmaier, Bertha F.K. Leong and Bob McDermott, all on the Health Committee.

The committees passed the administration's bill but gutted it and substituted provisions of a bill by Santiago.

Medical marijuana advocates said House Bill 1157 was too restrictive and cumbersome. One feature of the bill that was most criticized was a registry of patients to be maintained by the Department of Public Safety.

The Hawaii Medical Association, American Cancer Society, Hawaii Ophthalmological Association and other medical groups oppose legalizing marijuana for medical purposes until clinical studies prove it's safe and beneficial. Other opponents include the Honolulu and Hawaii County Police Departments and the Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii.

Many at town
meeting seek
fireworks ban

By Harold Morse


A straw poll taken at a Makiki town meeting last night found nearly all of those who responded favored at least some restrictions on fireworks.

Of the some 40 present, those who indicated a preference included about 12 in support of a ban, about six who favored a compromise between a ban and a do-nothing approach, and one who favored a do-nothing option.

Fireworks State Rep. Brian Schatz (D, Makiki-Tantalus) called for the vote.

State Sen. Carol Fukunaga (D, Tantalus-Manoa) and state Rep. Sylvia Luke (D, Nuuanu-Punchbowl) also were hosts in the Makiki Park meeting room.

They said a House bill would restore regulation of fireworks to the counties.

The Legislature took away county authority over fireworks in 1995.

Noting that proposed legislation distinguishes between aerial fireworks and nonaerial fireworks or firecrackers, Makiki resident Hideo Kobayashi objected to putting kids in jail for setting off aerial fireworks. Firecrackers cause more smoke and noise than aerials, he said.

Kobayashi also advocated making importing fireworks into Hawaii a felony, but favored accommodations for religious customs.

Fukunaga noted that a Senate bill would ban the import, sale and use of fireworks effective Jan. 2, 2000.

"It doesn't really help the problem of the noisy New Year's Eve this year," she said.

She deplored conditions last New Year's Eve. "In a lot of parts of Oahu, you could not drive safely. The noise was so heavy. The smoke was so great."

Makiki resident Paul Honzik, a fireworks opponent, cited dangers and health risks. Firefighters were overworked last New Year's Eve putting out fireworks-related fires, he said. "Fireworks that aren't burned make beautiful little bombs for boys." They set them off in schools and terrorize others, he said.

Dogs and cats are upset by fireworks and must be comforted by owners while the noise goes on, Honzik said. "I can't see why this fireworks has to be constantly argued over. Ban it. That's all you have to do."

The fireworks debate

Should fireworks be banned or limited in any way? Why or why not?

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Shark finning called
destructive, dangerous;
some urge ban

By Pat Omandam


The shipment of shark fins from foreign waters to Hawaii poses a health risk to humans and may harm the state's agriculture industry, warns Carroll Cox, president of EnviroWatch Inc.

Unlike other fish products that are shipped here in brine or frozen, Cox told lawmakers, shark fins are dried and exposed to the elements, permitting flies and other insects to infest them.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature "Some South and Central American countries where the fins are taken are home to several types of flesh-eating flies such as the blow fly," Cox said yesterday. "There is a possibility these insects could be introduced to Hawaii via transshipment of shark fin."

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday approved a measure that bans the sale, possession, purchase or trade of shark fins and requires that sharks be landed whole in Hawaii. The measure goes to the Finance Committee.

Proponents of House Bill 1706 HD2 strongly criticized shark finning -- which is the practice of catching a shark, removing its fin and throwing it back in the water.

The fins, used for the popular shark fin soup in Asia and Hawaii, sell for up to $50 a pound on the international market. In Hawaii, lawmakers estimate some $30 million worth of fins flows through the state each year, although little of that money goes to the local economy.

Bob Endreson, president of the Hawaii Fishermen's Foundation, said statistics from the National Marine Fisheries Service show 86 percent of the sharks landed or brought in by longline vessel in Hawaii are caught alive.

Recently, more than 11 tons of illegal shark fins were landed at Pier 35, brought in by a Honolulu-based boat that received the fins from foreign ships outside state waters. The number of fins represent the death of about 100,000 sharks, and is revenue the state will never see, Endreson said.

He urged lawmakers to enact bans on shark finning like those in Texas and Maine, which haven't affected fisherman, interstate trade or the state economy.

But not everyone in the fishing industry favors the measure. Bill Mustard, president and government relations officer for BOATS/Hawaii Inc., said there are about 1,000 Hawaii residents and half a dozen wholesalers and export brokers who trade in shark meat and fins.

James Cook, chairman of the fisheries council, in written testimony, asked the board to defer action on the bill.

Genetic test bill has
loophole, panel told

By Mike Yuen


A bill meant to prohibit genetic tests from being used in the underwriting of long-term care insurance policies contains a loophole that would permit such testing, state Insurance Commissioner Rey Graulty warns.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature "Until it can be demonstrated that there are valid reasons for using genetic information for long-term care underwriting purposes, the department (Commerce and Consumer Affairs) will be opposed to this bill," Graulty said in written testimony to the House Consumer Protection Committee.

The bill would permit insurers to issue long-term care policies based on genetic information if "the actual risks to the individual" are confirmed by a specially certified professional.

A person's genetic makeup can provide information about future health risks. The state already prohibits genetic information discrimination in health insurance coverage.

House Consumer Protection Chairman Ron Menor (D, Mililani) yesterday said his panel will act on the bill later this week.

The measure is supported by the state Health Department but opposed by the American Council of Life Insurance. State Farm Insurance Cos. also expressed its concerns.

"Currently, we do not require applicants for long-term care insurance to engage in any genetic testing," said State Farm's lobbyist, Rick Tsujimura. "However, if a person has taken a genetic test in the past, we believe we should have access to that information as part of the individual's medical record."

Sylvia Au, Health Department genetics coordinator, said there is nothing wrong in considering genetic information, but what has often happened is that genetic information and test results are assessed incorrectly due to their complexity. Hence, the need for professional confirmation, she said.

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