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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 2, 2010

Medical marijuana bill extinguished

By Mark Niesse
Associated Press

A proposal to create medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawai'i has gone up in smoke.

The idea is dead because the House Judiciary Committee refused to consider the measure before a legislative deadline yesterday.

Lawmakers were worried that medical marijuana dispensaries would fuel illegal sales of the drug to recreational users, said Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu.

"I can't let the free market control this when it's only for patients," said Karamatsu, D-41st (Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele).

Advocates for medical marijuana patients argued that Hawai'i needed to reform its decade-old law, which allows them to smoke and grow the drug, but prohibits them from buying it.

"The more than 7,000 patients in the state are extremely disappointed," said Pam Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii. "People really felt like this was going to be the year things would change in Hawai'i. Maybe next year."

The bill passed the Senate and two House committees before stalling.

It would have created California-style medical marijuana dispensaries, calling them "compassion centers."

Lawmakers backed off after law enforcement officials from Los Angeles held summits on Maui and O'ahu telling local leaders their problems with California's medical marijuana law, Lichty said.

Police departments in Hawai'i warned against relaxing marijuana enforcement until the federal government changes its drug laws, even though the Obama administration announced last year that patients wouldn't face federal arrest in states that allow medical marijuana.

"Until the feds come out and say what they're going to do, it will be hard to enact anything like this," said Keith Kamita, chief of the narcotics enforcement division for the state Department of Public Safety. "You don't want individuals to open dispensaries and then get arrested on the federal level."