In a National First, Governor of Hawaii Signs First Legislative Medical Marijuana Bill

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
June 14, 2000 12:00 am

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ACLU of Hawaii
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Wednesday, June 14, 2000

HONOLULU–The American Civil Liberties Union was one of the groups applauding today as Governor Ben Cayetano signed into law a measure that removes state-level criminal penalties for seriously ill people who grow, possess, and use marijuana with their doctors’ approval.

The bill, passed by the Hawaii House on April 11 and by its Senate on April 25, is the first of its kind to be enacted by a state legislature, rather than through a ballot initiative.

“We’re grateful that Hawaii’s elected officials care so much about seriously ill people,” said Pamela Lichty, vice president of Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, the main proponent of the bill, and a national board member of the American Civil Liberties Union, which also supported the measure. Other supporters included the Hawaii Nurses Association and the Hawaii Kokua Council of Senior Citizens.

“This is the first time in U.S. history that a state legislature has enacted a law to allow patients to possess and grow marijuana,” Lichty added. “Now we must ensure that the law is effectively implemented by state agencies to help patients without causing any harm to the public.”

Hawaii’s new law is similar to the medical marijuana initiatives that have passed as ballot measures in seven states and the District of Columbia since 1996. A number of state legislatures have enacted medical marijuana research laws since the late 1970s, but the Hawaii law is the first to effectively remove criminal penalties for medical marijuana users, Lichty noted.

Although federal law criminalizes the medical use of marijuana, because 99 percent of all marijuana arrests in the United States are made by state and local officials, state laws can effectively protect nearly all medical marijuana users from arrest and imprisonment.

“The second wave of the campaign to protect medical marijuana users is underway,” said Chuck Thomas, director of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which assisted in the effort to pass the landmark legislation in Hawaii. “The first wave was the passage of state ballot initiatives, the second is state legislation, and the third will be federal legislation.”

A bipartisan medical marijuana bill made some progress in Maryland this year, and Thomas said he expects it to pass next year. The Marijuana Policy Project, the ACLU and other groups are working to get medical marijuana bills introduced in 40 other states.

Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU’s national Drug Policy Litigation Project, lauded the political courage of Hawaii’s lawmakers in the face of a barrage of misinformation from the frontlines of the government’s so-called “war on drugs.”

“In supporting the right of doctors to recommend marijuana for medical purposes, lawmakers in Hawaii have demonstrated that they care more about the truth than about anti-drug rhetoric,” he said. “We hope that Congress and the Clinton Administration get the message.”

The ACLU has opposed the outright criminalization of drugs since 1968, believing that the best way to deal with drugs is regulation, not incarceration.

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