Why medical marijuana dispensaries will be bad for Kauai

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part commentary. The second part will be published Monday.

On April 8, Aloha Church hosted a detailed briefing from Rep. Marcus Oshiro, D-District 46 (Wahiawa), and Hawaii Family Forums’ director of community relations, Allen Cardines Jr. (pastor of Hope Chapel, Nanakuli). They spoke on the possible negative consequences of the medical marijuana dispensary bills, HB 321 and HD 2, now being fast-tracked at our state Legislature.

The day ended with testimony at the Kauai County Council chambers, asking the Legislature to give Kauai “Home Rule” control over marijuana dispensaries on Kauai, a right afforded counties in 16 other states on the Mainland.

I want to be clear, no one is interested in keeping anyone away from any medication they need. Hawaii’s medical marijuana law was enacted in 2000, as Act 228. It provided for medical marijuana as a relief for seriously ill individuals in Hawaii. The law was silent on how patients could obtain their medical marijuana if they were unable to grow their own.

Many claim this is why dispensary bills are being fast-tracked this session. Research shows that much has changed since 2000 that calls into serious question the wisdom of allowing marijuana dispensaries and growing marijuana for medical use.

Rep. Oshiro noted the effort to avoid medical and law enforcement committees for medical marijuana bills in both the State House and Senate. Lobbyists for marijuana legalization groups such as NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance have been prowling the halls of the Hawaii’s Legislature with money to spend on lawmakers looking to cash in. Collectively, they have between $80 and $100 million available to push legalization legislation nationwide. A poorly crafted medical marijuana bill is nothing more than a hidden step toward marijuana legalization here in Hawaii.

We should all be concerned with the negative effects of bad public policy on our communities. The experience of other states show a concern that we will end up with our youth getting their hands on today’s concentrated THC products offered for sale. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the ingredient of the marijuana that is the narcotic drug that has psychoactive effects.

Arizona, Colorado and California have seen negative, unforeseen impacts from the misuse of medical marijuana dispensaries often coupled with decriminalization that leads to dramatic increases of child and teen abuse. Once these dispensaries are in operation they could forever change our island communities in negative ways. Recent legislation has often sent children, teenagers and even young adults mixed messages.

On the one hand marijuana is likened to a “natural herb,” but truthfully is an extremely dangerous, psychoactive drug with a great potential to destroy young minds, lives, families and careers. Today’s hybridized and cultivated cannabis and the products made from it are far more potent than your grandfathers’ pot. From 1960 to 1983 the average THC content of marijuana was 2 percent or less. By 2011 the average THC content of marijuana was 11.4 percent. Colorado, from 2010 to 2014, has seen an increase in the average THC concentration of marijuana grown there, from about 12 percent to over 25 percent. The rapid increase of cultivated marijuana’s THC potency is expected to continue.

States such as Arizona and Colorado allow the manufacture and sale of concentrated products that contain THC up to 90 percent pure. They allow the sale of edibles like cookies and brownies. Most dangerous is the candy and treats that are being sprayed with a THC “spray” (a clear, concentrated, liquid form of THC). This gives the purchaser large doses of THC in a form that appeals to children and teens. Gummy bears, gummy worms, chocolate bars, lozenges, cotton candy and other types of “traditional candy,” often indistinguishable from their normal counterparts, are being sold for “medicinal use.”

These products are finding their way illegally into many other states in the U.S., where they are sold to abusers. Extremely dangerous to manufacture, butane gas based, “BHO oil,” “shatter” and “waxes” are manufactured for consumption in Arizona and Colorado, then are sold in medical marijuana dispensaries. Illegal manufacture is also common. These are extremely dangerous concentrates, containing 75 percent to 90 percent pure THC. The strains of cannabis cultivated today in decriminalized states hybridize out the CBD component as well.

CBD, or “Cannabidiol,” appears to be the most medically beneficial component of the marijuana plant. Cannabis strains such as “Charlotte’s Web” are showing great promise in medical marijuana research, showing usefulness for children and some adults with certain forms of epilepsy. These strains have been crossbred to minimize the dangerous THC while maximizing CBD. CBD oil products are now being sold here in pharmacies on Kauai as well as on Amazon.com and other online retailers. It is sold legally because it is manufactured from cannabis strains classified as hemp, not marijuana. Marijuana is still federally classified as a Schedule I Narcotic, and is treated like other very dangerous drugs with high addiction rates and no medicinal value such as LSD and heroin. Pharmacists and doctors on Kauai warn that CBD oil can have side effects, can interfere with anti-seizure medications, and are dangerous, especially for children.

Here on Kauai, December 2014 totals show that there have been 1,940 marijuana cards issued by the State Department of Health. Of those, only six people self-identified as being unable to grow the marijuana that they require. Statewide, the majority of the 13,937 registered marijuana cardholders, approximately 66 percent, have used the severe pain category as the basis of their medical marijuana need. Many believe that the “severe pain” category is often abused by those seeking a legal source for their “high.” Those with marijuana dispensary cards obtained to alleviate severe pain are often engaging in nothing more than drug-seeking behavior. Studies have been done that show only a few neurological conditions can benefit from low-dose THC treatments. Less than 5 percent of all Hawaii card holders’ list cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma or epileptic seizures as their reason for using medical marijuana.

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Alfred P. Sarmento is a Kekaha resident and member of Kauai Christian Voters.

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