About the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii

The Drug Policy Forum of Hawai‘i is a non-profit organization founded in 1993 to encourage the development of effective drug policies that minimize economic, social, and human costs, and to promote the consideration of pragmatic approaches to drug policy based on:

  • Scientific principles
  • Effective outcomes
  • Public-health considerations
  • Concern for human dignity
  • Enhancing the well-being of individuals and communities
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Mississippi Murder Charge Against Pregnant Teen Dismissed

Below is a Press Release from National Advocates for Pregnant Women, an organization with whom the Drug Policy Forum has worked closely in the past. This case has many dimensions that are all extremely important. For us, this case exemplifies the kind of callousness that is the result of treating drug use as a crime rather than a public health issue. The lack of a scientific connection between cocaine use and stillbirths makes it even more clear that the prosecution is using this tragedy to pursue their own agenda of establishing “personhood” for fetuses. In this way, it is the prosecutors who have shown a callous disregard for human life.

Press Release:

Yesterday, April 3, 2014, Mississippi Lowndes County Circuit Judge, Jim Kitchens, dismissed the murder charge against Rennie Gibbs. Ms. Gibbs, now 24, was charged with “depraved heart” murder after experiencing a stillbirth at 36 weeks of pregnancy. She was then only 16 years old. Relying on the medical examiner’s report in Ms. Gibbs’ case, the prosecutor claimed — without scientific support — that the stillbirth was caused by her cocaine use.

“We are pleased the murder charge was dismissed,” said Robert McDuff of McDuff & Byrd, Mississippi Defense Counsel. “We will have further discussions in the coming weeks with the District Attorney’s office in an effort to persuade them not to indict Ms. Gibbs for manslaughter or any other crime.” McDuff added, “In our view, neither the law nor the evidence justify prosecuting this young woman, who was a teenager at the time, and we hope this is the end of it. But if further charges are brought, we will return to court in her defense.”

According to Mishka Terplan, MD, MPH, clinician and researcher, “While research in the 1980s raised the concern that there might be an association between cocaine and stillbirths, in the subsequent 25 years of research no data has been found to support a causal relationship between cocaine use and stillbirths.”

This case became the subject of national attention, in part because of questions about the state’s medical examiner in the case, the questionable scientific claims it is based on, and the use of Mississippi’s murder statutes against pregnant women and mothers:

Nina Martin, ProPublica, “A Stillborn Child, A Charge of Murder, and the Disputed Case Law on ‘Fetal Harm’

Sadhbh Walshe, The Guardian, “Is miscarriage murder? States that put fetal rights ahead of a mother’s say so,” (original accompanying photograph)

Radley Balko, The Washington Post, “Another Mississippi outrage: Young mother faces life in prison for stillborn child

“The biggest threats to life — born and unborn — do not come from mothers, but rather from poverty, barriers to health care, persistent racism, environmental hazards, and prosecutions like this one,” said Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women and co-counsel in the case. She explained, “Prosecutions like these increase risks to babies by frightening pregnant women away from care and use tax dollars to expand the criminal justice system rather than to fund programs that actually protect the health of children.”

More than 70 organizations and experts were represented as amicus (friend of the court) in briefs in support of Ms. Gibbs’ case calling for the dismissal of the murder charge.

In articles reporting on the dismissal, Assistant District Attorney Mark Jackson suggested the state was considering seeking an indictment for manslaughter against Ms. Gibbs in the upcoming July grand jury session.


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Dept. of Health Looking for Transition Coordinator

Please spread the word! The Department of health is looking to hire someone to help them coordinate the transition of the Medical Marijuana Program from the Department of Public Safety. Please spread the word, and apply if you are interested and qualified. Here is the Recruitment Notice: MUMP_Transition_Coorinator_Recruitment Notice.3.20.14

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UN Reports that Criminal Penalties for Drug Use are Not Beneficial

logo_header Read the full story at the Drug Policy Alliance.

The United Nations has reported that criminal sanctions are not beneficial responses to drug use. This is not particularly new. The UN has reported in the past that decriminalization of drugs (not limited to marijuana) was the right course of action because of the harm that is associated with a criminal record and its seeming failure to cause any change in people’s behaviour.

Our decriminalization efforts here in Hawaii have been slow, but a large and growing consensus seems to support the decriminalization of marijuana at a minimum. Moreover, this consensus is not limited to the progressive drug reform community. One of the key notes from the article was that the working group that produced the report included Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which has long been a recalcitrant voice on American drug policy. This is just one more news story about how the base of progressive drug policy reform is not just growing, it is broadening.

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Attorney General Vows to Take on Heroin Overdoses

Read the full article at the Huffington Post.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder listens to a question at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in WashingtonAttorney General Eric Holder promised to address the public health crisis that is a huge surge in deaths by heroin overdose. In addition to a program of enforcement and treatment campaigns, Holder promises an enforcement approach directed at one of the root causes of the recent heroin epidemic: pharmaceutical opiates. The time for dealing with these heroin deaths is long overdue, and Holder should be congratulated for turning his sights in the right direction. What is more worrisome is the one sided approach he seems to favor, saying: “With DEA as our lead agency, we have adopted a strategy to attack all levels of the supply chain to prevent pharmaceutical controlled substances from getting into the hands of non-medical users.” This sounds like business as usual for the DEA, and shows a lack of commitment to harm reduction approaches that could save lives now.

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Hawaii News Now Investigates the Need for Dispensaries

Our sister organization, the Drug Policy Action Group has long been advocating for the addition of a dispensary system to Hawaii’s medical marijuana program. Hawaii news now gives us a brief investigation into why patients and patient advocacy groups need a dispensary system.

Hawaii News Now – KGMB and KHNL

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Support Good Samaritan Legislation!

SB2215 is a bill aimed at preventing deaths due to overdose. It will prevent witnesses who report overdoses from being prosecuted for possession themselves. This is the number one reason that witnesses to overdoses do not call the police. Most deaths due to overdose are preventable, and the good Samaritan law will help keep people alive.

  • SB2215 has passed the PSM committee, but now must be heard by the JDL committee. Please call the committee chair Clayton Hee at 808-586-7330 to encourage him to schedule this bill for a hearing immediately!

For a list of talking points prepared by our friends at Community Health Outreach Work (CHOW), click Here.

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Atlantic: Hoffman and the Terrible Heroin Deaths in the Shadows

Read the full article here.

PSHIn an insightful article in the Atlantic, Jeff Deney writes about the tragic death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. In the United States, a wave of heroin addiction and mortality is cresting. Harm reduction is becoming increasingly important as heroin is becoming more popular and more deadly. An excellent article.

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New Poll Shows Support for Marijuana Law Reform Surging in Hawaii

piechartWe just finished a round of polling, and the data show that support for marijuana reform in Hawaii is surging. Read the report Here.

Mirroring nationwide attitudes, a newly released poll shows sharp increases in support for overhaul of Hawaii marijuana laws.

The new poll, commissioned by Hawaii’s Drug Policy Action Group showed voter support for reform of Hawaii’s policies on marijuana trending upward across the board. Prominent local polling firm QMark Research conducted a statewide, statistically significant poll of 400 Hawaii voters between January 17, 2014 and January 23, 2014. Among its findings:

  • Today, 77% of Hawaii voters think that jail time is inappropriate for marijuana possession, an increase of 8 percentage points over 2012.
  • Furthermore, 66% of voters are in favor of outright legalization for adult use (an increase of 9 percentage points over 2012).
  • A large majority of 85% of voters continue to support Hawaii’s medical marijuana program (up 4 percentage points from 2012) while support for a dispensary system so patients do not need to use the black market to find their medication increased sharply to 85%, a 7 percentage point increase over 2012.

Pamela Lichty, President of the Drug Policy Action Group, said: “Around the country and here in Hawaii, voters are fed up with marijuana laws that seem to have been written after watching 1930’s propaganda films like ‘Reefer Madness’. Voters today want reasonable, modern policies that acknowledge marijuana’s value as a medicine, and which address public health and safety, but do not overstate marijuana’s risks as a recreational drug. In 2014, and with 85% of voters in support, we are hopeful Hawaii will establish sensibly controlled dispensaries to ensure safe access to medicine for our medical marijuana patients unable to grow their own, minimizing government interference between a patient & their doctor, and assuring legal access to the most effective treatments for their condition(s).”

Vanessa Chong, Executive Director of the ACLU of Hawaii, added: “Hawaii is ready to choose incremental, sensible policies like decriminalization over extremely harsh ones that add to the nationwide glut of arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana — further taxing an over-crowded criminal justice system. The signs have never been clearer that Hawaii’s voters want political leaders to find new ways forward on marijuana policy.” Patients, doctors, caregivers and the public are urged to join the confidential support network “The Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii” founded by the Drug Policy Action Group and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and follow the latest news at www.mcchi.org.

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House Speaker Joe Souki Mentions Need for Dispensaries in Opening Remarks

Today was the opening of the Hawai`i state legislature’s 2014 session. It has been A wild day at the state capitol with protests, snacks, poi and punch in abundance. One of the most memorable occurences, however, was a moment in the middle of house speaker Joe Souki’s opening remarks. He said:

“Recently, there has been much news about other states legalizing the use of marijuana. While I am not suggesting we go that route, Hawaii does permit the limited cultivation and use of marijuana for medical purposes. In spite of that, there are no dispensaries or places where you can legally buy cannabis even with a prescription.  I think we need to fix that gap in the law before we talk about anything else.”

While some readers will be disheartened to hear that Mr. Souki doesn’t think that we should go that route, perhaps referring to HB699 that would tax and regulate marijuana, it may hint that the legislature is warming to the idea of dispensaries, which our medical cannabis coalition considers the number one legislative priority.

Read the rest of Speaker Souki’s remarks here.

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DPFHI Talks About Cannabis on KITV

Visit the KITV site to see a video.
Pamela Lichty and Teri Heede, a medical Cannabis Patient, talk to KITV about the upcoming legalization in Colorado, and about how the laws in Hawaii may change in the coming years.

In Hawai’i despite the fact that medical marijuana is legal for patients like Teri who rely on it in order to manage their pain, there is no legal way to get marijuana. Patients must grow their own or ask a “caregiver” to grow for them. Caregivers can only grow medicine for one patient at a time. Hopefully though, this will be changing soon. According to Pamela Lichty, “A dispensary is really a crying need. Many of the more than 10,000 patients are asking for it as their number one ask.” Hopefully, Colorado signals a shift in attitudes about Marijuana that will lead to a more just and more reasonable system in Hawai’i.

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