The ACLU of Hawaii (“ACLU”) announced Tuesday that the Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) “will be changing its verbal and published guidelines” regarding Hawaii’s medical cannabis program to comply with Hawaii’s medical cannabis statute, reversing several heavy-handed and prohibitive requirements invented and imposed by the Department of Public Safety. In response to an ACLU demand letter, the Attorney General stated that DPS will no longer prohibit physicians who prescribe medical cannabis from performing calls at patient homes — a routine practice for other doctors treating patients with chronic, debilitating illnesses. DPS will also harmonize reporting requirements and penalties for non-compliance so that medical cannabis is treated the same as other controlled substances.
The ACLU took action after reports that Keith Kamita, the head of DPS’s Narcotics Enforcement Division (“NED”) under Governor Lingle (and now Deputy Director for Law Enforcement for DPS under Governor Abercrombie) incorrectly told a local physician that house calls for medical cannabis patients were prohibited under state law. Upon further investigation, the ACLU of Hawaii discovered that NED imposed, without legal basis, special registration requirements for physicians prescribing medical cannabis — far more stringent than those for physicians who recommend other controlled substances, including narcotics. NED, again without legal authority, decided that physicians must “register” with DPS every single location at which the physician sees a patient and discusses cannabis; in contrast, physicians prescribing other controlled substances need only register those addresses at which they maintain or store the medicine themselves (and not, for example, an office where they examine patients but do not store any medicine). Neither of these NED policies is supported by the eleven year old medical cannabis statute.
ACLU of Hawaii Senior Staff Attorney Daniel Gluck said, “Hawai‘i’s medical cannabis law was established to help doctors alleviate the suffering of very ill and dying patients. In implementing this law, the Legislature chose to allow DPS to oversee the program, which has led to eleven years of administrators applying a criminal control model to a public health issue.”
After the Department of Public Safety ignored repeated inquiries from the ACLU, the ACLU of Hawaii reached out to the Attorney General’s Office in an effort to avoid litigation. In responding to the ACLU, the Attorney General’s office affirmatively stated that “[h]ouse calls will not be prohibited.” The Attorney General’s office further stated that, just like physicians who work with any other controlled substances, physicians who recommend medical cannabis may do so at any location, even if that location is not registered with DPS.
The ACLU will continue monitoring implementation of Hawaii’s medical cannabis statute to ensure that DPS complies with the law, and that the rights of physicians and patients to participate in the medical cannabis program are protected. To that end, the ACLU is interested in being contacted by patients who have been waiting more than 60 days for their certificates from DPS.
The mission of the ACLU of Hawaii is to protect the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the U.S. and State Constitutions. The ACLU of Hawaii fulfills this through legislative, litigation, and public education programs statewide. The ACLU of Hawaii is a non-partisan and private non-profit organization that provides its services at no cost to the public and does not accept government funds. The ACLU of Hawaii has been serving Hawaii since 1965.