Medical marijuana clinic set for O'ahu
June 23, 2005
Timothy Hurley , Honolulu Advertiser
In a move that could add patients to the state's medical marijuana program, a Portland, Ore.-based marijuana advocacy group is planning to open a clinic in Honolulu designed to help people become certified for the program.
The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation says it is close to obtaining a lease on office space near the Queen's Medical Center and is aiming to open Aug. 1.
Paul Stanford, executive director and founder of the Oregon nonprofit, said the clinic — to be manned by a licensed physician and nurse practitioners — will help those who could use marijuana to cope with conditions such as cancer and AIDS but who are having trouble finding a doctor willing to sign off on the controversial program.
Others see the effort as nothing more than a money-making scheme that won't help sufferers get the medicine.
Tom Mountain, founder of the Honolulu Medical Marijuana Patients Co-op, said that while it's true that not enough doctors are giving out the blue cards needed to enroll in the program, a more pressing problem is the supply of medical marijuana.
Mountain said growing marijuana plants can be dangerous, expensive and nearly impossible for many O'ahu residents, and an influx of new patients, without the supply, will inevitably lead to more illegal street sales.
Under Hawai'i's five-year-old medical marijuana law, patients are allowed to have three mature marijuana plants, four immature plants and an ounce of usable marijuana for each mature plant. There is no provision for those unable to grow marijuana, but Mountain's co-op has helped some by getting patients to donate extra portions to others.
Advocates say marijuana can be the only way for many chronically ill people, such as AIDS and cancer patients, to relieve their symptoms.
Stanford said the decision to open the Honolulu clinic was spurred by a realization that Hawai'i's medical marijuana program is underused. While there are 2,600 certified patients statewide — half of them on the Big Island — only 300 or so live on O'ahu.
He said the foundation's goal is to help 2,000 patients in the first year and between 4,000 and 5,000 in the second year.
The foundation, whose doctors treat 8,300 patients between the Portland and Seattle clinics, has 40 Hawai'i residents on a waiting list after advertising in a weekly publication in Honolulu for four or five weeks, he said.
The standard fee will be $250, he said, but there's also a sliding scale, with a $150 fee for those who can't afford the full amount.
'Our philosophy is that if you can't afford it, we will try to make arrangements. We currently see between five and 10 patients a week for free,' he said.
Dr. Tom Orvald, a physician and former Hawai'i resident who works in the foundation's Seattle office, will fly to Honolulu one week a month. To be seen at the clinic, patients must have current medical records that show a diagnosis of one of the qualifying conditions.
Stanford said the staff will educate patients about the specifics of the state's medical marijuana law and about alternatives to smoking marijuana, including vaporization and eating foods cooked with marijuana.
Stanford said he was hoping to open the Honolulu clinic this week but the project was put on hold after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 6 that the federal government may prosecute people who smoke marijuana with a doctor's prescription.
After the ruling, U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo and other officials declared Hawai'i's medical marijuana program dead. Kubo later backed down from a comment that he would prosecute doctors for certifying marijuana for their patients.
A telephone message seeking comment was left for Kubo, but he could not be reached yesterday.
Stanford said he was confident the program would continue unchanged in Hawai'i, just like it is in 10 other states, including Oregon and Washington.
Keith Kamita, administrator of the state's medical marijuana program, said his office would be watching over the new operation carefully, especially if it generates the numbers of patients it hopes to.
'You just can't make debilitating conditions up. I would be highly suspicious,' he said.
But Pam Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai'i, said she met with Stanford and concluded his clinic could help the scores of patients who can't get the required certification from their doctors.
Mountain and others said the biggest problem remains the supply.
'We don't have any medicine. Where are we going to get it?' he said.
Mountain contends there's not enough space in urban O'ahu for most patients to grow marijuana plants. Even if there is room on one's property, it can be dangerous because of the possibility of theft. Growing it indoors requires expensive lighting and usually results in outrageous electric bills, he said.
Mountain has been lobbying for collective gardens where the marijuana can be grown safely to medical standards, while supervised by the state Department of Health. But until that becomes reality, he said, more blue cards aren't going to help.
Agreed, said Pat Paiva of Makaha, who uses marijuana to help control her epilepsy. Paiva said she tried growing marijuana plants at her former Prospect Street home in Honolulu. Bugs ate the first crop. Thieves ripped off the second.
'I gave up,' she said.
Paiva, a hairdresser who manages a salon, insists her life would be so much more difficult to live without the stability marijuana gives her. But it can be difficult to obtain, she said, and more blue cards aren't going to help. She said it sounds like the foundation is just going to be taking advantage of people.
'If you can't run it like a pharmacy, stay home. We don't need you,' she said.