Give protection to patients who need medical marijuana
July 06, 2007
EDITORIAL, Honolulu Star-BulletinSTATE laws allowing medical use of marijuana have been on the books for nearly a decade but have been hampered by federal attempts to undermine them. The number of patients has dwindled as they have become subject to arrest and physicians have grown reluctant to prescribe pot. Legislation that should have been enacted this year is needed to protect patients using marijuana and physicians prescribing it.
The Hawaii Senate unanimously approved a bill in this year's legislative session that would have expanded the use of medical marijuana and restricted physicians' role in prescribing it to conform with court rulings, but the bill died in a House committee. As many as 1,000 Hawaii residents have been registered with the state to use marijuana to treat their illnesses.
The number has fallen because of doctors' fear of prosecution, even though the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Hawaii, has made it clear that they may not be prosecuted for recommending marijuana treatment and that its benefits would outweigh the risks. The bill would have limited the physician's role to those two functions.
The Hawaii law enacted in 2000 allows marijuana to be used for treatment of a "debilitating medical condition," and the bill would have created a committee of two physicians and a state Department of Health representative to meet twice a year to consider physicians' requests to widen its use. Research has shown that marijuana is "moderately well suited" for treating nausea, vomiting and AIDS.
Amounts of marijuana to be used for medical purposes also would have been expanded by the bill. Patients now can possess an "adequate supply" of as much as three mature marijuana plants, four immature plants and one ounce of usable marijuana. The bill would have expanded such a supply to seven mature plants and three ounces of usable marijuana.
Oregon patients are allowed as many as two dozen plants and 24 ounces of pot. New Mexico, the most recent state to legalize medical marijuana, plans to allow plants coinciding with Hawaii's current law plus six ounces of marijuana. Washington is the only one of the dozen medical-marijuana states with no specific limit set and is embroiled in a debate about what it should be.
Washington's absence of a limit has allowed patients and their doctors to argue in court over how much they need. A marijuana dosing study at the University of Washington found that patients should be allowed from a half-pound to 234 pounds during a two-month period.