By NANCY COOK LAUER
Gov. Neil Abercrombie is likely to sign two bills on his desk aimed at making marijuana a more mainstream medicine, according to Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, a physician who, as chairman of the Senate Health Committee, has been working on reforming the state’s 13-year-old medical marijuana law.
“The fundamental purpose is to make medical marijuana a health issue rather than a public safety or police issue,” Green said Monday. “I just really want to put it into mainstream medicine.”
One of the bills, 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.”
SB 642 was a last-minute gut-and-replace of a tobacco bill that was written by a House-Senate conference committee the week before the end of the 60-day legislative session. No public comment was taken on the measure, but it was overwhelmingly passed by both houses.
“It was almost unanimous that this was good reform,” Green said.
The primary care physician requirement has been a sore point for some medical marijuana advocates who worry that patients who go to federal clinics or don’t have a primary care physician wouldn’t qualify. But Green said most of the concerns have been alleviated by his assurances that the Department of Health will provide alternatives when it writes its administrative rules.
The Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii, on its Facebook page, is encouraging the governor to sign the bills.
“We applaud the Legislature’s improvements to the state’s 13-year-old program,” Pamela Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Action Group, said in a May 28 Facebook post. “The measures passed this session are a promising start to a much-needed update.”
Attempts for further comment from Lichty were unsuccessful by press time Monday.
But Green said the primary care physician requirement is necessary to combat “fly-by-night” mainland marijuana doctors who have been coming to Hawaii to host quickie clinics and even selling marijuana cards at Honolulu nightspots.
“That is not the standard of care,” Green said. “The standard of care is to know your patient and monitor your patient and follow up with your patient.”
Abercrombie has until June 24 to list bills he’s likely to veto. Bills not signed or vetoed by July 9 automatically become law without his signature.
Abercrombie’s press secretary, Louise Kim McCoy, declined to say whether the governor intends to sign the bills.
“They are still going through the thorough review process,” McCoy said.
Green said he met with Abercrombie and came away with the impression the bills would be signed into law.
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 would increase that to seven total plants and 4 ounces of usable dried marijuana.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.