Pubdate: Mon, 14 Sep 2009
Source: Honolulu Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2009 The Honolulu Advertiser
Contact: http://drugsense.org/url/uXtrz8Lm
Website: http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/195
Author: Derrick DePledge, Staff Writer

NO POT TASK FORCE THIS YEAR

2 Lawmakers Say Lingle Is Ignoring Legislature's Intent With Decision

The Lingle administration has chosen not to convene a medical
marijuana task force that was opposed by Gov. Linda Lingle, a decision
two state lawmakers believe ignores the intent of the state
Legislature.

The administration at first cited fiscal limitations and then
priorities at the state Department of Public Safety as reasons for not
going forward this year with a task force established by state law.

State Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), and state Rep.
Joe Bertram III, D-11th (Makena, Wailea, Kihei), believe the
administration has disregarded a law the governor was against.

Hawai'i is one of 13 states that allow medical marijuana, but patients
and their primary caregivers have to grow their own supply or
otherwise purchase the drug in the criminal market. Lawmakers believe
a medical marijuana task force is necessary to study the obstacles
patients encounter when trying to obtain the drug to ease cancer,
glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, severe nausea and seizures.

Lingle vetoed the bill that created the medical marijuana task force
and a second task force to study whether the state should regulate
salvia divinorum, a psychedelic herb. The governor said the state
should not recommend ways to increase marijuana use or production
until federal law, which prohibits marijuana, is changed. She said
salvia divinorum could be added to the state's list of controlled
substances without having a task force.

The governor also said the task forces would redirect manpower and
resources from the Department of Public Safety. The department would
be required to submit reports on medical marijuana and salvia
divinorum to the Legislature before the next session in January. Veto
overturned

But the state House and Senate overrode Lingle's veto, so the bill
became law.

Lingle has previously opposed the expansion of the state's medical
marijuana program, citing the conflict between state and federal laws.

Under the Bush administration, the U.S. Department of Justice policy
was to actively prosecute marijuana distributors even in states that
had legalized marijuana for medical use. In March, new U.S. Attorney
General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would not
target medical marijuana patients or distributors who were following
state laws.

"It's just unfortunate, at this stage, that the governor has decided
to ignore the law," Espero said, adding that the governor is making a
policy decision, not a budget decision.

"In this case, that's what it appears like, because there was no
appropriation attached to the bill," he said. "And in the
Legislature's opinion, it's not going to take a whole lot of money to
convene this task force and get the stakeholders engaged." Spending
discretion

Lingle has clear discretion under state law to restrict spending
approved by the Legislature in order to manage the state's budget. The
governor, for example, said this summer that she would not release
money for Keiki Care, a basic children's health care program, even
though lawmakers overrode her veto of the bill. The governor explained
that the state did not have the money for the program because of the
budget deficit.

In August, Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy adviser, informed a
West O'ahu AIDS activist interested in serving on the medical
marijuana task force that the task force would not be formed because
of "current fiscal limitations." This month, Smith said in an e-mail
to Espero that the task force would not be convened but did not cite a
reason.

Russell Pang, a Lingle spokesman, said Friday that the administration
was prioritizing its limited resources. The Department of Public
Safety is in the process of closing Kulani Correctional Facility on
the Big Island, reintegrating women inmates brought home from the
Mainland, and identifying potential layoffs and spending restrictions
because of the deficit.

"We are making a priority decision," Pang said of the medical
marijuana task force.

The Legislative Reference Bureau has completed a report, also required
by the new law, on how other states that have legalized medical
marijuana have handled access, distribution and security issues.
Policies in 3 states

The bureau found that only three states  California, New Mexico and
Rhode Island  have policies and procedures to address these issues.
California allows cooperatives and collectives, regulated by local
government, to cultivate medical marijuana. New Mexico licenses
private nonprofit medical marijuana distributors, but only one
nonprofit has been licensed so far. Rhode Island agreed this summer to
license private nonprofit distributors at so-called "compassion centers."

Espero and Bertram said they plan to form a working group that would
carry out the intent of the medical marijuana task force.

"These people have been waiting since 2000 to get their medicine. And
they've faced so much," Bertram, who uses marijuana for medical
purposes, said of many patients. "It's absurd to say 'just go to the
back of the line.' " 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr