Pubdate: Fri, 01 Dec 2017
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2017 Star Advertiser
Author: Kristen Consillio


The Honolulu Police Department is reviewing a controversial policy
that requires legal marijuana patients to turn in their firearms.

The reconsideration follows community backlash since the Honolulu
Star-Advertiser reported earlier this week that HPD has sent letters
to at least 30 medical cannabis users who are permitted gun owners
telling them to surrender their firearms.

The new police chief, Susan Ballard, hasn't said what her position is
on the issue. HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said Ballard is reviewing
the policy.

Ballard's name was at the bottom of a letter, dated Nov. 13, informing
the gun owner he or she had 30 days to bring in or transfer all
firearms. The Nov. 13 letter also had the name of HPD Maj. Raymond
Ancheta at the bottom, and only Ancheta's signature appears on a copy
viewed by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

"The department has standard letters that are sent out and some are
signed by commanders," Yu said Thursday.

The Nov. 13 letter said: "Your medical marijuana use disqualifies you
from ownership of firearms and ammunition. If you currently own or
have any firearms, you have 30 days upon receipt of this letter to
voluntarily surrender your firearms, permit and ammunition to the
Honolulu Police Department or otherwise transfer ownership."

Federal law prohibits an "unlawful user" of any controlled substance
from possessing firearms, and under federal law, marijuana is a
controlled substance.

"The point that HPD seems to be missing is that you can't use
violation of federal law as a reason to take firearms away from
patients when the federal scheduling of marijuana doesn't apply to the
medical use of cannabis in Hawaii," said medical marijuana advocate
Dr. Clif Otto.

The issue came up three months after Hawaii's first medical marijuana
dispensary opened for business.

"HPD's policy must be reversed. Since opening in August, we've served
over 3,000 responsible citizens living with serious medical conditions
sanctioned under state law for cannabis use," said Teri Freitas
Gorman, spokeswoman for Maui Grown Therapies, the state's first
medical marijuana dispensary. "There's no reason patients should have
their constitutional rights trampled by administrative overreach by a
county law enforcement agency."

There were 43 firearm permit denials for medical marijuana patients in
2016 in Hawaii, according to the latest report by the Attorney
General's Crime Prevention and Justice Assistance Division.

HPD has checked all gun permit applicants through the state Department
of Health's marijuana patient registry since September 2016 when
firearms personnel gained access to the database, Yu said. Before
that, applicants were required to acknowledge they read the U.S.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives September 2011
letter stating that any person who uses marijuana, regardless of
whether state law authorizes the drug for medicinal purposes, is
"prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or

"I don't know why it was handled differently previously," Yu

The Health Department is required by law to provide 24/7 verification
of cannabis patients for law enforcement purposes, said spokeswoman
Janice Okubo. Law enforcement personnel registered to use the DOH
marijuana registry system cannot access patient names or identifying
information, but receive either a "valid" or "not valid" response, she

"This unfairly singles out registered medical cannabis patients and it
does so in a sweeping one-size-fits-all policy," said Carl Bergquist,
executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, in a notice
sent to members of the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii. "Are they
the only people who could be seen as violating federal law with
regards to Hawaii's medical cannabis programs? No, but they are
low-hanging fruit since they are complying with state law and thus
listed in the patient registry database."
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