Drug Policy Forum Legislative Agenda for 2018

Please see the embedded document, which you can download, to learn a bit about our 2018 legislative agenda. Together with allies, we are tackling issues from bail reform to drug possession laws, civil asset forfeiture and medical cannabis.


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Press Release – Going After Legal Adult Use Cannabis Would Put Federal Government on Wrong Side of History and Science



CONTACT: Carl Bergquist, Executive Director, Drug Policy Forum of Hawaiʻi (DFPHI)

(808) 518-3213; carl@dpfhi.org


HONOLULU, HI – The Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i (DPFHI) strongly condemns today’s reactionary move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind the 2013 Cole Memorandum and related guidance (Cole Memo), effectively marking adult use cannabis states with a bull’s eye just days after California joined the “green rush.” The Cole Memo was issued by the Obama Administration in the wake of Colorado’s and Washington State’s successful legalization initiatives. It set a list of criteria for states to follow in order to avoid federal interest in their cannabis programs – these included the prevention of: distribution of cannabis to minors, interstate diversion of cannabis, and revenue going to criminal cartels and gangs.

This action by the Trump Administration is part of a continuum of reactionary Drug War era policies based on discredited criminal justice approaches and seemingly insatiable reliance on junk science,” said Carl Bergquist, DPFHI Executive Director. He continued: “Back in May 2017, AG Sessions announced that low-level drug offenders would once again be criminalized to the maximum extent possible, and now he begins 2018 by signaling that federal prosecutors should go after states pursuing well-regulated, democratically enacted cannabis programs.” “Fortunately, both state and federally elected leaders from both parties in the legalization states are already standing up for their constitutional right to be the ‘laboratories of democracy,’ to use former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ apt phrase.”

Supporting Hawaii’s state medical cannabis program is crucial, but state officials should now also join our federal legislators who have called for rescheduling and decriminalizing of cannabis and increased research. For now, it is essential to note that the federal government continues to be prevented from using federal tax dollars to go after state medical cannabis programs. Today’s move to rescind the Cole Memo will hopefully spur Congress to put a similar halt to any federal targeting of legal state adult use cannabis. We urge all four members of the Hawai’i Congressional delegation to co-sponsor these amendments. Regardless, Hawai’i should use the upcoming 2018 legislative session to begin charting the path toward adult use cannabis. If such a program already existed, Hawai’i would like Colorado, Alaska and Nevada surely defend it. So just because AG Sessions, informed by Reefer Madness rather than science and common sense, spoke today, saying “jump,” does not mean Hawai’i should ask “how high?”



Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i; PO Box 83, Honolulu, HI 96810; e-mail: info@dpfhi.org


Q & A about Hawai’i Gun Permits and Medical Cannabis

Aloha DPFHI Supporters:

There have been numerous media reports and social media posts regarding letters that some registered medical cannabis patients have been receiving from the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) regarding their recent applications to register a gun. As understandable concerns have been raised, the Q & A below is intended to highlight what we know and what we do not know about this situation.

Mahalo for your interest and support!

Carl Bergquist, Executive Director, Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i, a founding member of the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawai’i


What are these letters about?

Per its own statistics, since January 2017 HPD has sent about 30 letters (see photo below) to current medical cannabis patients who have applied for a new gun permit. The letters have stated that the person is disqualified from owning or possessing a firearm. Further, the letter states that if the person owns or has any (other) firearms, she/he has thirty days to “voluntarily surrender” these. (NOTE: This morning we learned that HPD is reviewing this part of the policy.)

These letters were first sent in September 2016.

HPD letter


Is this a new HPD or state policy?


For years, as documented in annual reports by the Department of the Attorney General, medical cannabis patients have been denied gun permits. This year, however, the report not only detailed a sharp increase in denials for current patients (from 17 to 42, up nearly 150%), but it also provided more information on how these patients are viewed. The increase in denials is not attributable to the raw number of patients, which increased during this time period, but not by this much.

The AG report (see photo below) lists now medical cannabis patients under the category of “mental incompetence /impairment.” And unlike others in this subcategory, medical cannabis patients remain automatically ineligible for a long time since they cannot reapply until their medical cannabis (a.k.a. “329”) cards have been expired for a year or longer.




The demand that the patients “voluntarily surrender” other weapons may be a new policy – it is not required by state law (see below.) At this time, we do not know if the other Hawai’i police departments (Kauai, Maui, Big Island) also include this demand in their letters pursuant to notification of a permit denial. And as noted above, HPD is now reviewing this policy.


How did the HPD know that the individual was a medical cannabis patient?

Patient confidentiality is a core component of the medical cannabis program. Accordingly, law enforcement cannot just check the medical cannabis database whenever it feels like it. Aside from broader provisions that are rarely, if ever, invoked, specifically designated local law enforcement officers only access the database to verify if a person claiming to be a patient is indeed one.

As of October 2017, the state gun permit form now has a question asking whether the applicant is a medical cannabis patient. Presumably, if the applicant answers “yes,” then a designated HPD officer conducts a verification check. If that comes back as “valid,” then the permit is denied.


Is the HPD trawling the patient database or is the Department of Health granting unauthorized access?

These checks are for a very specific purpose, albeit one with which many, including the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i, do not see as warranted (please see the question on policy below.)


What is the legal authority for doing this?

In the letter, the HPD refers to two sections of the Hawai’i Revised Statutes (HRS) as providing legal authority.

First, HRS §134-7(a), which mainly refers to federal law. Since federal law, per the section cited on the gun permit form -18 U.S.C. §922(g)(3), prohibits ownership of firearms for “unlawful users” of any controlled substance, the state has interpreted this to mean that medical cannabis users are such “unlawful users.”

This interpretation of federal law is also informed by a recent controversial 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision. The 9th Circuit is the federal appeals court district that includes Hawai’i, making its rulings binding on federal districts courts here, but not on our state courts (though they may see them as “persuasive.”) The decision found that being a medical cannabis card holder, even if the person is not currently using the medicine, poses a demonstrated connection to “illegal drugs” that cause impairment and violence. The evidence presented to back up this claim was negligible.

An excerpt from that opinion reads:

“It is beyond dispute that illegal drug users, including marijuana users, are likely as a consequence of that use to experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgment and that can lead to irrational or unpredictable behavior.”

As a result of the decision, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ (ATF) policy to deny state medical cannabis patients a gun permit was given a green light. It also prompted a change on the federal permit form, adding a note about state cannabis laws, one which we now see mirrored in the recently changed Hawai’i form.
Second, regarding the “surrender” demand, HPD cites HRS §134-7.3. This section also outlines how to notify an applicant of a denied permit. What is noteworthy here is that while the requirement for law enforcement to notify the applicant by certified mail is mandatory, the provision to then demand the “surrender” of other weapons is optional:

“If any applicant is denied a permit, the chiefs of police of the respective counties shall send, by certified mail, a notice setting forth the reasons for the denial and may require that the applicant voluntarily surrender all firearms and ammunition to the chief of police where the applicant resides or dispose of all firearms and ammunition.”

Finally, there is also a solid argument to be made that, regardless of the above, federal scheduling of cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance is inapplicable in Hawai’i since the state recognizes cannabis as a medicine. For more on that and how state law can be updated to reflect this, please see this legislation (SB120 and HB170) currently pending at the state legislature.
What remains unclear?

As noted above, the state gun permit form has only included a medical cannabis question as of October 2017. However, as also noted, the letters have going out since September 2016.

The question then is: on what basis did HPD and other departments conduct verification checks before this was question was on the form? Did they run every applicant through the database? Are they still doing this despite the addition of the medical cannabis question? That would not seem to comport with the spirit of the law authorizing verification checks.

Another issue is the basis for adding the optional “surrender” language to the letter. What informed this policy decision when state law does not require it? Do the Neighbor Islands also include a demand in their letters?

Finally, the letter states that a “medical doctor’s clearance letter” is needed for any future applications. This does not rhyme with the requirement set forth in the AG report cited above. There it says that such a letter is required for mental health patients and others, while conversely “(f)ormer medical marijuana patients can successfully apply one year after the expiration of their medical marijuana approval cards.”


Is this good policy?


This unfairly singles out registered medical cannabis patients and it does so in a sweeping “one size fits all” policy. Are they the only people who could be seen as violating federal law with regards to Hawaii’s medical cannabis programs? No, but they are low-hanging fruit since they are complying with state law and thus listed in the patient registry database. In other words, they took the state at its word that it now views medical cannabis as a form of medicine. Yet the same state sends a different signal with this stance on guns. There has been no contention that the patients being denied a permit are somehow not following state law when it comes to medical cannabis.

This kind of thinking buys into the stigmatization of cannabis that the state should have left behind with the passage of the original medical cannabis law in 2000, or at the latest with the dispensary law of 2015.

Also, denying medical cannabis patients a permit for a whole year even after their cards have expired is wholly arbitrary. Prior to expiration, the patient may not even have used medical cannabis for a longer time period. So even though there has demonstrably been no medical cannabis caused impairment for very long period of time, they remain ineligible. This also makes no sense since even traces of cannabis found in the system up to 30 days after consumption bear no relation to impairment at any particular point in time. And many patients use medical cannabis strains with lower levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the component of cannabis that can cause impairment. Yet, all medical cannabis patients are lumped together and deemed ineligible for a gun permit. The AG report’s listing of medical cannabis patients under a category entitled “mental incompetence/impairment” is quite frankly shocking.

This is not a policy based on evidence, but one based on myth and convenience.


What can be done about this?

Please join us in advocating for changes to state law and associated administrative rules. Also, we can demand that the HPD stop requesting that medical cannabis patients “surrender” their other weapons when state law does require them to make such a demand.


Press Release: With the Passage of Drug Paraphernalia Reform, Hawaiʻi is Poised for Brighter, Healthier Future

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World-renowned Medical Cannabis Researcher Speaks on Oahu at 3 Events This Week!

Aloha Drug Policy Forum Supporters:

This coming week, please consider attending any or all of the following FREE events focused on medical cannabis.  You can register via the eventbrite links below. One of the medical cannabis dispensary licensees, Mānoa Botanicals, is sponsoring the events.

While they are intended for somewhat difference audiences, they will all feature the world-renowned cannabis researcher, Dr. Sue Sisley. Dr. Sisley has conducted pioneering research on the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with medical cannabis. As of 2015, PTSD is one of the debilitating qualifying conditions here in Hawai’i for which doctors and advance practice nurses can certify a patient to use medical cannabis! That was only possible thanks to your support. Mahalo nui!

1) The Future of Medical Cannabis in Hawaii @ Temple Emanu-El, Wednesday, July 12th  at 7pm



2) The Vitality of Medical Cannabis in Scientific Studies @ The UH Cancer Center Friday, July 14th at 5pm


Location: Sullivan Room, University of Hawaii Cancer Center

701 Ilalo St., Honolulu, HI 96813

$5 cash-only parking in Parking Lot C or free street parking available; see map

Light Pupus


3) Understanding the Benefits of Medical Cannabis @ The Honolulu Wellness Center Sunday July 16th at 6pm



*****FREE PARKING is available in the guest lot. Take a right as you go up the driveway. Once parked, take the pedestrian walkway to get to the Nauru Tower. Once you enter the lobby, sign your vehicle into the register, then walk to the left towards the security desk. You’ll see a private elevator that will take you directly up to the Honolulu Wellness Center.

Press Release: Drug War Redux, US Attorney-General Embraces the Past as Hawai’i is Poised to Move Forward

Drug War Redux: US Attorney-General Embraces the Past as Hawai’i is Poised to Move Forward


CONTACT: Carl Bergquist, Executive Director, Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii

(808) 518-3213; carl@dpfhi.org


HONOLULU, HI – Today, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions made good on previous promises and issued a directive to all US Attorneys ordering them to seek more uniform, harsher sentences including for non-violent drug offenders. The Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i (DPFHI) rejects this time traveling to past failures that have such a racially disparate impact.  Hawai’i like most of the country is actually moving in the opposite direction by embracing a compassionate, commonsensical and evidence-based approach to criminal justice. Further, the US Supreme Court in a string of rulings has called into question federal sentencing guidelines and other aspects related to mandatory minimums.

In its recently concluded 2017 session, the Hawai’i State Legislature overwhelmingly passed a law (HB1501) reducing the penalty for non-violent drug paraphernalia offenses from a maximum five year sentence with a hefty fine to a civil violation with a maximum fine of $500. This was done out of recognition that locking up nonviolent drug users not only overburdens our jails and prisons – the conditions of which the ACLU of Hawai’i have called unconstitutional – but that criminalizing drug use is no way to help someone in need of treatment.

As recently as last month, the US Supreme Court issued yet another ruling that highlights issues with constantly seeking harsher penalties. In a quest to seek more uniform sentences, the US had been seeing longer sentences for nonviolent drug and other offenses and an elimination of judge discretion to take individual circumstances into account. In 2005, the Court ruled that the sentencing guidelines should be advisory and not mandatory, restoring judge discretion. Then this April, the Supreme Court ruled the judges do not need to hand out multiple mandatory sentences.

In other words, this “Island in the Pacific”, many other states and the US Supreme Court are on a path at odds with AG Sessions retrogressive policy. This is why we are urging Governor David Ige to sign HB1501 into law forthwith, sending a strong signal that Hawai’i understands that public safety is enhanced by a smart approach that instead of criminalizing drug use, takes public health into account and reserves resources for the most serious offenders.

Updated Version of Medical Cannabis Guide for Patients and Health Care Professionals!

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Join us on Maui! Drug Policy Forum Comes to Wailuku 4/4 – Updates on Hawaii’s Drug Laws, Including Medical Cannabis!


Maui DPF

Dedicated to safe, responsible, humane and effective drug policies since 1993

MAUI EVENT!  Please Save the Date.

On Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 (from 6pm to 9pm)

Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii will present:

“Talk Story—What’s Happening with Drug Laws in Hawaii?”

Please join us for a FREE evening of Talk Story with Pamela Lichty MPH, President and Wendy Gibson R.N., Field Organizer for The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii.


We encourage you to join in the discussions about ongoing efforts to make meaningful changes to Hawaii’s Drug Laws.


Learn about legislation on Marijuana Decriminalization, Legalization, Drug Paraphernalia, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) project, and other bills in motion.


Get updates on Hawaii’s Medical Marijuana (Cannabis) Program and the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Systems, related legislation and ongoing educational efforts.



WHERE: Wailuku–Velma McWayne Santos– Community Center.

395 Waena Street, Wailuku 96793 (between Lower Main St. and Eha St.). Parking is FREE. Meeting Room and Restrooms are ADA Accessible.


This event is Open to the Public and FREE.

Donations are graciously accepted.


Light Refreshments will be served.



For more information, please call (808) 321-4503, e-mail  organizer@dpfhi.org,

or visit our Website at dpfhi.org.


You can also LIKE us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii (@DPFHawaii)

Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii (@MCcoalitionHI)


New Poll Shows Increased, Strong Support for Cannabis Reform

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Drug Policy Forum’s Legislative Priorities for 2017

Aloha Supporters:

Please see the document below for our 2017 legislative priorities. As soon as specific legislation is introduced, we will provide you with bill numbers and action items.

May 2017 be the year that Hawai’i finally decriminalizes possession of cannabis for adult personal use as well as the possession of drug paraphernalia. Imua!

We wish you a Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

Download the PDF file .