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Saturday, June 17, 2000

Medical marijuana
law is a mistake

Bullet The issue: Governor Cayetano has signed into law a bill authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Bullet Our view: The measure conflicts with federal law and has other serious problems.

THE use of marijuana for medical purposes is now legal in Hawaii following the signature of Governor Cayetano on a bill passed by the last Legislature. But the purchase of marijuana remains illegal, which gives the new law a dubious quality. Users would presumably have to depend on the police looking the other way when they obtained the marijuana they are authorized to use. Moreover, use of marijuana -- even for medical purposes -- remains illegal under federal law.

The Hawaii Medical Association and law enforcement agencies opposed passage of this law, for different reasons. The medical association pointed out that the effectiveness of marijuana in relieving pain has not been scientifically established and it has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Without FDA approval, patients will presumably have to buy marijuana from street dealers rather than pharmacists, leaving them exposed to wide variations in potency and purity.

The National Institutes of Health and the American Medical Association have called for more studies on marijuana as a pain reliever and on the development of an alternative to smoking it, which can be harmful just as smoking tobacco is -- even more so.

Until such studies are completed, the use of marijuana for medical purposes -- without knowing what dosage is appropriate and what might be the adverse effects of improper dosage, among other things -- seems risky, even irresponsible.

Moreover, doctors who prescribed marijuana would risk losing their licenses and facing prosecution under federal law.

Proponents of the law say there would be no prescriptions as such. Rather, doctors would fill out medical marijuana usage certification forms to be submitted to the state narcotics division. This seems like a distinction without a difference, although the risk of prosecution may be low.

The police's objection to the law is that it would increase the difficulty of enforcing the law against usage for nonmedical purposes. Obviously there is a possibility that people without health conditions that would warrant authorized usage might attempt to subvert the process by obtaining marijuana under false pretenses.

There are many effective and approved drugs to ease pain. Doctors know how they interact with other treatments, and the benefits and risk of their use. That is not the case with marijuana.

The Legislature and the governor have rejected these objections in favor of the arguments of proponents that relief is needed for the pain of those suffering from intractable conditions. Some of these advocates also support a broader easing, even total abolition, of drug laws. This may be the first step in that direction.

Plan for Mauna Kea
is deft compromise

Bullet The issue: The University of Hawaii Board of Regents has approved a new master plan for the summit of Mauna Kea.
Bullet Our view: The plan is a welcome compromise between development of astronomical facilities and preservation of Hawaiian sites.

THE 20-year master plan for further development of astronomical observatory facilities atop Mauna Kea that was approved by the University of Hawaii Board of Regents constitutes a reasonable compromise. The regents balanced the interests of astronomers intent on making maximum use of the unmatched advantages of the Mauna Kea summit with those of Hawaiians striving to preserve a site of ethnic significance.

The university has devoted years of effort and more than $1 million in developing the plan, which replaces a 1983 plan. The result is a plan that allows development of three more observatories on 150 acres, rather than the five originally proposed. The science complex now has 13 telescopes. The plan limits new construction to a 150-acre zone, leaving untouched 11,000 acres containing sites of importance to Hawaiians.

Mauna Kea is regarded in Hawaiian lore as a home to the goddess Poliahu. It contains many burial and other sites related to ancient Hawaiian practices. Some Hawaiians consider use of the summit for astronomical observation as a defiling of the site.

However, astronomers told the regents that Mauna Kea is the best site for viewing the heavens in the Northern Hemisphere and perhaps the world. Its use has brought hundreds of scientists from many countries to the Big Island, making it a world center of astronomical observation.

Use of the summit for astronomy has benefited Hawaii. While the ethnic concerns of Hawaiians must be respected, it is in the interest of the state that scientific activity on Mauna Kea be allowed to proceed without undue restraint.

The plan calls for establishment of a Mauna Kea management office at the University of Hawaii-Hilo, rather than the Manoa campus. One of the functions of the office will be to employ rangers to protect cultural sites at the summit.

Although Hawaiians claim a special relationship with Mauna Kea, it should be recognized that every citizen, regardless of race or ethnicity, has an equal right to participate in any decision by the state regarding the use of any lands in the islands. Although attempts should be made to accommodate their concerns, Hawaiians have no veto power over the use of Mauna Kea or any other area, even if it is considered ceded land.

The master plan approved by the regents does not fully satisfy either side in this dispute, but strikes a balance that deserves support.

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