Pubdate: Wed, 01 Mar 2000
Source: MidWeek (HI)
Copyright: 2000 RFD Publications, Inc.
Contact:  RFD Publications, 45-525 Luluku Road, Kaneohe HI 96744
Fax: (808) 247-7246
Author: not listed
Bookmark: MAP's link to Hawaii articles is:
Cited: Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii:
Note: MidWeek made a few errors in this interview.  In the seventh
paragraph, HMSA should actually be HMA (the Hawaii Medical Association).
Alaska and Arizona were omitted from the list of states that already have
medical marijuana laws.  The District of Columbia voted 69% in favor of
medical marijuana, but its adoption was blocked by Congress.  Colorado and
Nevada must vote again later this year on adopting medical marijuana. --


Donald Topping News Maker

As far as Donald Topping is concerned, the only thing worse than drugs is
our public policy for dealing with them.

"It's obvious that we're losing the war on drugs," says Topping, president
of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii.  In existence since 1993, the aim of the
DPFH is to "bring the discussion of drug policy to the public forum and
re-examine and change our failed drugs policies."

The first step, Topping says, is to "stop thinking of drug use as a
criminal act but as a public health concern."

At the top of Topping's concerns at the moment is passage of a medical
marijuana bill, House Bill 1157.

"I'm hopeful," says Topping, former head of the Social Science Research
Center at the University of Hawaii. "I do know there's more support than
there has been in the past.  At least one legislator has confided that his
father used marijuana after undergoing chemotherapy for cancer to control
the severe nausea that goes with chemo."

This is not the first attempt to pass a medical marijuana bill in Hawaii.
Last year the bill died in the Judiciary Committee after being passed by
the Health Committees of both the senate and the house.

"The problem then was a lack of support from HMSA and from law enforcement,"
Topping says. "I think there is still a lack of support from HMSA and law
enforcement, but there is also a greater understanding now with the public
and members of the Legislature that the use of marijuana for medical purposes
is safe and is needed by a sizeable number of people.  And right now a lot of
patients are either using marijuana and risking arrest or are not using it
out of fear of breaking the law."

The use of marijuana in treating pain from a variety of ailments has been
scientifically documented, he says.  They include nausea from chemotherapy,
muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (or Crohn's disease),
glaucoma and even AIDS.

"We don't have any numbers on how many people could benefit from this bill
Topping says. "It's a hidden population.  But it is a significant number of
people."  Topping also points to several other states that have legalized
the use of marijuana as a prescription drug--Oregon, Washington, California,
Maine and the District of Columbia--as proof that it does not lead to an
increase in the recreational use of marijuana.

Each of those states, as well as Colorado and Nevada, which also 
decriminalized marijuana for medical use, did so by placing it on the ballot
far voters to decide. "But each of those states has initiative, which Hawaii
doesn't have," Topping says. "So it's up to the Legislature."

But he believes there is widespread support for medical marijuana in
Hawaii. The DPFH recently commissioned a statewide poll conducted by QMark
Research of Honolulu.  When asked if they favored or opposed a bill that
would allow seriously or terminally ill patients to use marijuana for
medical purposes if supported by their medical doctor, 77 percent said that
they favored it. That's a 14 percent increase from a similar poll conducted
two years ago. (The poll had a plus-or-minus error rate of 3 percent.)

"What people seem to be saying is that if we have the means to alleviate
the suffering of very sick people, let's be compassionate and do it," says

Topping also wants to continue looking at our drug policy.

"We keep building prisons to punish drug offenders," Topping says. "At
least one-third of Hawaii inmates are there for drug violations. In federal
prisons it's 60 percent.  Meanwhile there continues to be an enormous
amount of drugs on the street. How long can we afford to continue policies
that obviously are not working?"
- ---
MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst