Wednesday | October 18, 2017
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Medical marijuana group vows to open ‘transfer station’

A medical marijuana group, the Alternative Pain Management Club of Hawaii, has canceled a meeting it said was scheduled for today with County Prosecutor Mitch Roth, but a spokesman said the group plans to establish a “medical cannabis transfer station” — with or without the blessing of local law enforcement.

The club placed a classified ad in Sunday’s Tribune-Herald to invite the public to a purported meeting with Roth at the county’s Aupuni Center today at 9 a.m. It also emailed a media release on Friday, which the Tribune-Herald didn’t publish, touting the meeting. It stated, in part: “14 years after the state of Hawaii legalized medical marijuana, there is still no legal means for patients to acquire the medicine they are otherwise authorized to possess. With over 11,000 medical marijuana patients now registered in the state of Hawaii, the Alternative Pain Management Club of Hawaii finds the apparent prohibition on a legal medicine to be unsustainable.”

Club spokesman Mike Ruggles emailed another release on Sunday stating: “Due to the popular interest in our meeting with Mitch Roth, the prosecutors office asked us to postpone the meeting … in order to prepare better accommodations for the large numbers of expected attendees.”

Roth said Sunday that he had met once with the group but no plans had been solidified for a public meeting with the group and that the group hadn’t reserved the use of the Aupuni Center.

“I thought we had it set up because we scheduled it some six weeks in advance, but apparently there were some technical difficulties,” Ruggles said Sunday. He said that the Alternative Pain Management Club numbers in the hundreds and that plans will go forward for the transfer station so medical marijuana cardholders will have the means to “obtain, acquire and dispose” of medical marijuana, whether a meeting with Roth occurs or not. Ruggles said he’ll be at Aupuni Center this morning to apologize to those who showed up for the meeting and to distribute information on club membership.

“Basically, we know that Mitch can’t give us what we want,” Ruggles said. “But the reason for the meeting … is that we’re going to move forward and open anyway. And then later, if they do arrest us, then we’re trying to set up an entrapment defense.”

The state’s marijuana law has been in effect since 2000, and the only legal methods for “blue card” holders to acquire the drug is to grow it themselves or have a licensed caregiver grow it for them. Bills to establish medical marijuana dispensaries were introduced in both the state House and Senate died this past legislative session, but neither were heard in legislative committees.

“They entrap us by telling us we can do something and then they refuse to tell us how and then arrest us for doing it,” Ruggles said. “… The state said, hey, if you pay us $150, we’ll give you a medical marijuana card that allows you to use marijuana. You get the card and you say ‘OK, how do I do this?’ And they say we’re gonna stand silent on that, and if you do anything we don’t like, we’ll arrest you.

“At one time, the appellate court said medical marijuanists don’t have the right to (transport marijuana) in the public domain. But recently, … the state Supreme Court reversed it said not only do we have the right to transport, we have the right to acquire and distribute, as well. Because even though they stood silent on how, any other interpretation would be absurd.

“Because what we’re pointing out is that they told us that we could do this, they take our money, and then there’s no legal way to do it and they arrest us for trying. And so we believe that will give us the right to bring up the entrapment defense.”

Ruggles maintains that the Supreme Court ruling overturning medical marijuana patient Geoffrey Woodhall’s conviction for possessing a small amount of pot at Kona airport, Hawaii Administrative Rules sections 23-200-20 and 23-200-21, which cover the transfer and disposal of controlled substances, and U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole’s Aug. 29 memo to federal prosecutors — which many interpreted as instructions to lay off Colorado’s and Washington’s adult recreational marijuana users — pave the way for medical marijuana transfer stations.

“What the attorney general said was is that it now falls on prosecutorial discretion. And what he called for was for robust controls at the prosecutorial discretion level,” Ruggles said. “So what that means is they’re not going to make it legal, they’re just going to give us a legal avenue in order for medical marijuanists to, you know, acquire, dispose and all that stuff.”

Roth called Ruggles’ interpretation of Hawaii vs. Woodhall “an interesting reading of the case.”

“The last time I met with them, we had this discussion and my feeling was that under the current legal scheme, what they’re proposing to do is illegal distribution,” he said. “They want to call it disposing of (marijuana) but it appears what they’re doing is distribution.” Roth said that no money need change hands for the law to be broken, that giving the drug to someone else is considered distribution.

“What they need is a change in the law for them to do what they want to do,” Roth said. “… There are a whole lot of issues that need to be looked at. One is the amount. When you go to get medicine from a doctor, they prescribe you a painkiller one every couple of hours or one every six hours. Right now, there is no distribution amount (for marijuana), how much you’re supposed to be taking. And quality. Are we talking aspirin or are we talking morphine as far as (strength)? And THC levels vary so widely, it’s really difficult. So I think there has to be a lot more thought put into medical marijuana than has been put into it. That needs to be looked at by the legislature as well as by doctors, I believe.”

Roth said that at his last meeting with the group, “unfortunately, for them, I didn’t give them the answer that they wanted to hear.”

“My job is to enforce the laws that are on the books,” he said. “And they’re looking for loopholes. They’re looking for me to give them loopholes. And I can’t do that. My job isn’t to give them advice on how to find loopholes, it’s to enforce the laws. And the way the laws are right now, the scheme that they’re looking at does not seem legal.”

Ruggles was the lead plaintiff in a 2011 lawsuit against the county and police, claiming the 2008 voter initiative making adult personal use of pot the lowest law enforcement priority was being ignored by police and prosecutors. The case was dismissed by Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura, and the state’s Intermediate Court of Appeals declined to hear an appeal, saying it lacked jurisdiction.

Email John Burnett at