Supreme Court will hear medical marijuana case

June 27, 2004

Advertiser Staff and News Services, Honolulu Advertiser

SAN FRANCISCO — The Supreme Court said yesterday it would decide whether the government has the power to prevent sick patients from using marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

The California case tests whether the federal government — which maintains there is no medical benefit to marijuana — can block sick patients from using cannabis and prosecute them or their suppliers.

The case began after several raids on California medical marijuana clubs and individual growers over the past few years.

The case also affects Hawai'i, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state. They have medical marijuana laws similar to California's allowing patients to grow, use or receive marijuana if they have a doctor's recommendation.

The number of people participating in Hawai'i's medical marijuana program has been climbing, said state Narcotics Enforcement Division administrator Keith Kamita, who oversees the program.

In June 2001 — about six months after the state began accepting applications — only 255 patients participated and 35 physicians participated in the program, Kamita said. Now there are 1,514 patients and 99 physicians participating, he said.

The Big Island has the most patients, with 795. Following are Kaua'i with 324, O'ahu at 214, Maui with 168, Ni'ihau with six, Moloka'i with five and Lana'i with two.

Under the Hawai'i law, only patients with a 'debilitating medical condition' — such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS or other chronic conditions that cause severe pain, nausea or seizures — can possess and grow marijuana for medical purposes.

The law requires physicians to submit an application to the narcotics division, explaining why a patient wants to use marijuana.

Patients also need an annual statement from a physician to qualify for the program.

Patients are limited to three mature marijuana plants, four immature marijuana plants and one ounce of usable marijuana per mature plant.

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