In 2010, Hawaii resident Geoffrey Woodhall was apprehended at Kona Airport. He held a plastic baggie filled with marijuana and was charged with promoting a detrimental drug in the third degree. He was sentenced in a simple decision based on the fact that possession of marijuana, in any amount, is an offense. But the ordeal, which exemplified the inconsistent laws governing medical marijuana in Hawaii, proved less than simple. In fact, the Hawaii Supreme Court finally settled the matter–in Woodhall’s favor–on May 31.
Woodhall is a certificate-holding member of Hawaii’s Medical Marijuana program, which allows the “medical use” of marijuana. “Medical use,” in quotes, is important here, defined by Hawaii Revised Statutes as “the acquisition, possession, cultivation, use, distribution, or transportation of marijuana or paraphernalia relating to the administration of marijuana to alleviate the symptoms or effects of a qualifying patient’s debilitating medical condition…”
The law puts card-holding medical marijuana patients in an awkward place, sandwiched by a further statute, stating that “The authorization for the medical use of marijuana in this section” won’t apply:
• In a school bus, public bus, or any moving vehicle;
• In the workplace of one’s employment;
• On any school grounds;
• At any public park, public beach, public recreation center, recreation or youth center; or
• Other places open to the public
The state argued that “medical use” includes “possession, transportation, and acquisition” so “the prohibition on medical use in public places under HRS § 329-122 includes possession, transportation, and acquisition.” Or in other words, Woodhall broke the law by simply having his medicine in a public area.
Understandably, Woodhall thought this absurd. “[A]qualifying patient would seemingly always be in violation of H.R.S. § 329-122(c)(2)(E) when transporting their marijuana unless they were walking/transporting in their own home, on private property, etc.,” he said in his response. “How the qualifying patient would be able to get their medical marijuana to their own home or to private property seems a near impossibility since they would arguably have to walk somewhere open to the public, such as a sidewalk, to get to their home or private property.”
The court and the judge sided with Woodhall in the end, agreeing that the intent of the Medical Marijuana program is indeed to allow the access of Medical Marijuana. Further, the court found that “the district court erred in re-determining the fact of medical use in contrast to the parties’ stipulation… We further hold that the rule of lenity requires us, under the specific facts of this case, to construe HRS §§ 329-121,-122, and -125 against the government, as there is an inconsistency between the authorized transportation of medical marijuana under HRS § 329-121, and the prohibition on transport of medical marijuana through ‘any… place open to the public’ under HRS § 329-122(c)(E).”
In other words, the inconsistency and lack of clarity in the law requires the courts to side with patients. And thus a baggie-caused case, resulting in years of litigation that almost ended in the state making an absurd invalidation of its own program, drew to a close.
Hawaii aside, numerous states have operational medical marijuana programs (and the University of California has its own Center of Medicinal Cannabis Research). This is despite the federal government’s continuing classification of the drug as Schedule I (potential for abuse and no medical use).
What’s more, a recent survey shows that 57 percent of Hawaii residents favor legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana instead of continuing the flawed and indefinite, trillion-dollar prohibition approach pursued for nearly a century. Even hemp, which contains no psychoactive compounds, is illegal under federal law, despite its myriad uses from paper to fabric.
Plus, seriously, we live Hawaii.
Yet in the last session, efforts to legalize recreational cannabis, decriminalize possession, and grow hemp have failed to pass the legislature. A bill to modify the Medical Marijuana program did pass, though the changes don’t touch the issue brought into question by the Woodhall case.