By NANCY COOK LAUER
Hawaii’s first changes to its medical marijuana laws since their inception 13 years ago will begin with a bill-signing today, after the legislation survived a rather short potential veto list released Monday by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
One of the marijuana bills to be signed, HB 668, transfers administration of the medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health by Jan. 1, 2015.
The other, SB 642, increases the amount of marijuana allowed for each patient, but requires the patient’s primary care physician to certify the need for medical marijuana. Currently, any physician is allowed to certify the need for the medical marijuana “blue card.”
Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, a physician and chairman of the Senate Health Committee who worked the compromise package of bills, expressed relief in the bills’ pending enactment into law.
“It was important to me to have wholesale improvements,” rather than piecemeal amendments, Green said of the years of work on the bills. “I’m very grateful. This is a major step forward.”
Abercrombie produced a list of nine bills that could be vetoed. He has until July 9 to sign or veto them or they automatically become law without his signature.
The bills are HB 763, Relating to the State Building Code; SB 1265, Relating to Contracts; HB 619, Relating to Feral Birds; HB 988, Relating to Native Wildlife; HB 424, Relating to Timeshare Conveyances; HB 654, Relating to Nursing; HB 1130, Relating to the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation; SB 3, Relating to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and SB 68, Relating to Sentencing.
“I greatly respect the legislative process and the work of individual legislators in forming public policy,” Abercrombie said in a statement. “This past session resulted in meaningful measures that will ultimately benefit the people of Hawaii. However, there may be difficulty in implementing some of these bills as they are currently written, and there are other measures that require further consideration.”
The marijuana bills were crafted through what Green called a “gigantic collaboration” of health-care providers, patients and drug policy advocates. There are about 11,000 medical marijuana patients in the state.
Abercrombie is expected to sign the bills at a ceremony at 3:30 p.m. today.
Not everyone is happy about the bill combo, however.
Andrea Tischler, chairwoman of the Big Island chapter of Americans for Safe Access and a medical marijuana patient, lauded the transfer of the program from law enforcement to the Health Department in HB668. But she said the primary physician requirement in SB 642 is going to be problematic for patients.
Major health maintenance organizations, veterans clinics and others have policies forbidding their primary care physicians to certify marijuana patients, Tischler said. She said she’s a Kaiser Permanente patient, but she has to see one of the approximately half dozen “pot docs” on the island for her blue card certification.
Tischler estimated that more than 90 percent of Hawaii Island marijuana patients rely on the pot docs instead of their primary care physicians.
“This will knock out 90 percent of the patients,” she said. “It will kick us back to the Dark Ages.”
Green, however, said he’s talked with primary care physicians who indicate they’ll write certifications, once the program is administered by the Department of Health and becomes more mainstream.
Another problem, Tischler said, is the limit of one patient per caregiver, when earlier versions of the bill allowed up to 10 patients. A caregiver is a person who grows marijuana for patients who, for whatever reason, can’t grow their own.
“Unfortunately, most of the patients are forced to buy from the black market,” she said. “This bill doesn’t change any of that.”
The bills also allow blue-card holders to possess an additional ounce or so of marijuana. Currently, patients are allowed to possess an “adequate supply,” defined as three mature plants, four immature plants and 3 ounces of usable dried marijuana. The Senate bill will increase that to seven total plants and 4 ounces of usable dried marijuana.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.