Pubdate: Sun, 13 Jan 2013
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2013 Star Advertiser
Author: Gordon Y.K. Pang
Note: Star-advertiser reporter Nelson Daranciang contributed to this


Abercrombie Urged Federal Officials to Ease Controls on the Drug in a
2012 Letter

A movement to ease marijuana laws in Hawaii appears to be gaining
momentum as the state Legislature prepares to open on Wednesday.

A poll released Thursday shows a majority of Hawaii voters today may
be favorable to the idea of legalizing marijuana, which wasn't the
case when a similar poll was conducted five years ago.

Meanwhile, a letter has surfaced in which Gov. Neil Abercrombie asked
the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to support the
reclassification of marijuana as a Schedule II controlled substance.
Such a change would allow doctors to legally prescribe marijuana and
pharmacists to dispense it.

State Sen. Will Espero, who heads the Senate Public Safety Committee,
said he anticipates a lot of discussion about marijuana laws in this
coming session, especially after the electorate in Colorado and
Washington state voted in November to legalize marijuana use.

"I expect that there'll be quite a few medical cannabis reform,
decriminalization and some legalization bills as well," Espero said

A law that took effect in 2000 allows for medical use of marijuana,
but is silent on how people are to first obtain it.

Last week, a poll released by the Drug Policy Action Group showed 57
percent of those queried being in favor of legalizing, taxing and
regulating marijuana. Conducted by QMark Research, the poll surveyed
603 Hawaii voters between Nov. 19 and Dec. 4. The poll has a margin of
error of plus or minus 4.07 percentage points.

A similar poll taken in 2005 showed 37 percent in support of marijuana
legalization, according to a release issued by the American Civil
Liberties Union of Hawaii. ACLU Hawaii and the Drug Policy Action
Group, the advocacy arm of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, have been
lobbying for more liberal marijuana laws in Hawaii.

The 2012 poll also showed 55 percent of respondents strongly in favor
of establishing regulated dispensaries to distribute marijuana, and 58
percent in favor of decriminalizing marijuana and making possession
and personal use a violation similar to a parking ticket.

The organizations sponsoring the poll separately issued a study
showing that decriminalizing marijuana could save the state $9 million
in incarceration and other law enforcement costs.

Pamela Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Action Group, said the
main reason for the poll was to "present some baseline, independent
scientific data" on the view of Hawaii residents.

The conclusion, she said, is that "public opinion is changing very

Lichty noted that the 2005 poll, also done by QMark and commissioned
by her group, showed only 36 percent of respondents OK with
decriminalizing marijuana.

Proponents of liberalizing marijuana laws appear to have a friend in

In November 2011, the governors of Rhode Island and Washington
petitioned the DEA to begin rule-making procedures to reclassify
marijuana as a Schedule II controlled substance instead of Schedule

Schedule I controlled substances, which also include heroin, LSD and
Ecstasy, are those drugs the agency deems to have no currently
accepted medical use in the U.S.

Reclassifying marijuana to Schedule II would allow doctors to legally
prescribe it and pharmacists to dispense it. That is not possible for
Schedule I drugs.

Last February, Abercrombie joined the effort with his own letter to
the DEA.

Abercrombie spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy said Thursday that the letter
stands on its own and requires no further comment from the governor.

Hawaii island marijuana advocate Roger Christie has included
Abercrombie's letter, dated Feb. 10, 2012, in his list of exhibits
supporting his effort to have federal marijuana manufacturing,
possession and distribution charges against him dismissed.

A U.S. District Court hearing on Christie's request is scheduled for
next month.

Lichty said that while Abercrombie's support is encouraging, what is
likely to come first is a change in the Hawaii state law, making it
legal for doctors to prescribe marijuana and pharmacists to dispense

"I think as more and more states come on board, there will be more
pressure felt by the federal government to change its policy to
conform with what voters in various states are saying," she said.

At last year's Legislature, a bill decriminalizing marijuana was
passed by the Senate but died in the House.

Espero said he expects the Senate to push out a similar bill this
session. And while "I don't think we're going to address legalization
this session," he said he expects discussion on that front as well.

Espero said he also anticipates bills reforming the medical marijuana
law. One proposal is to transfer authority over the issuance of
medical marijuana cards to the Department of Health from the
Department of Public Safety.

"And then the focus wouldn't be so much on law enforcement but on
health," he said, noting that health agencies typically deal with
medical marijuana in other states that allow for its use.

Other discussion could focus on increasing the number of plants
someone with a medical marijuana card can grow from the current legal
maximum of seven, transporting of medical cannabis and where people
can legally obtain marijuana.

"There will probably also be some discussion on dispensaries, although
I don't think the Legislature is ready to pass any dispensary bill,"
he said.

In response to last week's poll results, the Honolulu Police
Department issued a statement reiterating its opposition to the
legalization and decriminalization of marijuana.

HPD cited research linking frequent marijuana use with an increase in
violent behavior.

Legalizing marijuana would lead to an increase in its availability and
public willingness to use the drug, HPD said. Further, "marijuana
(use) has high potential for abuse and addiction, creating the need
for treatment programs and other assistance," HPD said.

The appearance of medical marijuana dispensaries in California "have
brought an increase in burglaries, robberies, homicides, money
laundering, firearms violations and drug dealing," HPD said.

- --- Star-advertiser reporter Nelson Daranciang contributed to this
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