Hearing set on proposed pot rules

LIHUE — After a bumpy transition for the state’s medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health, things are starting to return to normal.

Dr. David Barton said there was a brief delay in releasing new applications for medical marijuana patients statewide when the transition occurred on Jan. 1. But most of those issues have been resolved.

What still needs to be worked out is clarifying who should receive medical marijuana and whether medical files should be turned over for investigative purposes.

“I like the way the DOH has done almost everything,” said Barton, who operates his Hawaiian Pacific Pain and Palliative Care satellite clinic in Kapaa.

The new medical marijuana registration cards being issued by the DOH, for example, include the location of where a patient’s marijuana is grown and the name of the primary care physician.

Though new Department of Health rules to administer the state’s medical marijuana program has won praise among some critics, many county officials and medical marijuana advocates agree more work still needs to be done.

“Give the authority to regulate medical marijuana permits to law enforcement as the Department of Health is going to have a difficult time with enforcement,” the 22-member Life’s Choices Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Enforcement wrote in their report last month to state lawmakers from Kauai.

Life’s Choices Kauai coordinator Theresa Koki declined to comment on the proposed rule changes. Calls to committee chair and Kauai Drug Court administrator Joseph Savino were not returned before press time.

Barton said he has heard concerns about a provision added to the proposed DOH rules that would allow copies of patients’ medical records to be turned over to state and local law enforcement agencies for investigations on possible law violations by doctors.

The rules require physicians to “maintain records that support the decision to recommend the medical use of marijuana, including records of the diagnosis and treatment of the debilitating medical condition.”

It’s a move Barton supports because it will help to curb the spread of he calls “signature clinics” — those that are more lax at recommending the use of medical marijuana and signing off on certification forms for patients.

Both critics and supporters say determining what qualifies as a possible debilitating medical condition is another gray area. The word “debilitating,” according to the draft rules, is defined as “impairing the ability of a person to accomplish activities of daily living.”

State laws specify that the use of medical marijuana can be justified for certain conditions like cancer, glaucoma, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or other chronic diseases that causes cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, and severe and persistent muscle spasms.

“Permits should be issued only to those who have a real debilitating illness and not for short-term severe pain that could easily be cured/helped through other medications prescribed or over the counter,” county officials wrote.

A public hearing on the proposed rules is scheduled to take place at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the basement room of the State Office Building, 3060 Eiwa Street in Lihue.

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