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Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Advocates laud
rules allowing
medical use
of marijuana

A patient or caregiver may
grow up to seven plants and
possess up to three ounces of pot

By Janine Tully

Advocates of medical marijuana welcomed news that the state has approved rules to allow patients access to the drug.

"I'm pleased with the way the rules were revised," said Don Topping, president of Hawaii's Drug Policy Forum. "Now (patients) can go ahead and start the process of applying for the certificates to protect themselves from arrest."

Starting Dec. 28, physicians will be able to issue certificates to patients allowing them to use marijuana.

The rules make Hawaii the eighth state to legalize possession of marijuana to alleviate pain, nausea and other discomforts associated with illnesses such as cancer, glaucoma and AIDS.

Federal law still bans pot

U.S. Attorney General Steven Alm said federal law still prohibits possession of marijuana.

But he said his office will exercise discretion when investigating a case.

"Legally, nothing can stop us from arresting someone in possession of marijuana," Alm said.

"Whether we choose to do so is another matter. We are going to look at it case by case."

Alm noted that federal prosecutors traditionally focus on hard drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and crystal methamphetamine.

However, he said he did not want to give the impression that his office will ignore large-scale marijuana harvests. "That won't fly," he said.

Medical marijuana advocates are concerned that the new rules do not address how patients should get the drug.

The patient or caregiver will be able to legally grow up to seven plants and possess up to three ounces of marijuana.

But this can be problematic if the patient lives in an apartment and does not know much about growing marijuana, said Scott Foster, a medical marijuana advocate and member of the Drug Policy Forum.

There are also questions about quality, strains and potency that require some expertise, Topping said.

How the drug is obtained is "a gray area that doesn't make a lot of people happy," said Topping.

"But that's what we have to work with at the present time. Marijuana is a weed; it grows quite easily."

Up to patients to comply

Topping said the new rules reflect concerns raised at a public hearing last month.

Some of the changes include:

Bullet Speeding up the certification process. The initial draft allowed the Department of Public Safety 60 days to issue a registration certificate. Under the new rules, the department will issue a temporary registration certificate immediately upon receiving the physician's written certificate and a $25 payment fee.

Bullet Doctors will not be required to report a patient's address change; patients will be responsible for this. However, doctors still will have to notify the department if a patient's condition no longer warrants the use of marijuana.

Bullet Doctors will not be required to determine the amount of marijuana used. The patient will be responsible for complying with the law.

Bullet Patients can carry marijuana when traveling interisland. The department deleted provisions that restrict mailing and transporting of marijuana between the islands. Officials pointed out, however, that such activities are still in violation of federal laws.

"The initial (rules) draft was very onerous in terms of accessing the plant," said Foster.

"Sixty days is an eternity if you are throwing up" (because of cancer treatments).

Physicians who want to obtain the forms or who have questions about the certification process can call the Narcotics Enforcement Division at 594-0150.

E-mail to City Desk

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