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Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa

Representing the 1st District of Hawaii

Congresswomen Hanabusa and Gabbard Oppose Governor Ige’s Intent to Veto Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana to Treat Opioid Abuse

June 27, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard issued the following statements today in opposition of Governor David Ige’s intent to veto SB 2407 SD1 HD1 CD1, a bill that would permit the prescription of medical marijuana to combat opioid abuse in Hawaii.

The measure amends the definition of "debilitating medical condition", as used in the medical use of cannabis law, to include opioid use disorders, substance use disorders, and withdrawal symptoms resulting from the treatment of those conditions.

“America is managing an opioid epidemic that is killing an average of 91 Americans a day. Medical cannabis provides similar relief for chronic pain patients without the possibility of a fatal overdose. We need to explore every opportunity to help our citizens who are battling addiction to pain killers and other prescription drugs. This is a life or death issue,” said Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa. “We know that states that administer medical cannabis programs have much lower opioid addiction rates, and opioid overdoses drop by an average of 25%. According to the March issue of the Journal of Health Economics, ‘Dispensaries – retail outlets that sell marijuana to qualified patients – contribute to the decline in opioid overdose death rates.’ We urge the Governor to reconsider and allow the bill to become law to increase access to medical cannabis for patients dealing with opioid abuse.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said: “We are in the middle of an ongoing opioid epidemic in this country and Hawai’i is on the front lines – there are 191 drug-related deaths per year, as well as almost 500,000 active opioid prescriptions, which is enough to serve a third of our population. With such a stark increase in prescription opioid use and dependence, heroin and synthetic drug overdose, and emergency room visits over the last decade, we must allow legal access to medical marijuana to help prevent opioid addiction and opioid-related deaths. This legislation has the potential to save people’s lives in Hawaii - states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey that have adopted similar policies have seen addiction rates drop and opioid abuse deaths decrease by over 20%. Understanding that people’s lives are at stake, I urge Governor Ige to reconsider and sign this legislation into law now.”

In May, researchers at the University of Georgia, Athens, released a study that used data from Medicare Part D, that found prescriptions filled for all opioids decreased by 2.1 million daily doses a year when a state legalized medical marijuana, and by 3.7 million daily doses a year when dispensaries opened. About 41 million Americans use Medicare Part D. 

Opiod use is lower in states that eased marijuana laws and studies have also found a correlation in states that have legalized medical marijuana with a drop in addiction rates and opioid abuse deaths, some by over 20%.

The Drug Policy Forum of  Hawaii also opposed the veto. 

“This announcement is misguided since Hawai’i has the chance to join the vanguard of other states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey in approving medical cannabis against opioid and other substance use. As the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, said when she recently approved the use of medical cannabis against substance use disorders, this is not meant to be a “substitute” for other proven treatments but rather to act as “another tool” against this devastating disease. As a state that pioneered the legalization of medical cannabis, and now has dispensaries serving the patient population, it makes sense that we embrace this kind of progressive outlook rather than bury it in process that will lead to prolonged suffering. The Governor’s Opioid Initiative, in which DPFHI participated, calls for “alternatives” to opioids. We submit that SB2407 can and should be part of those alternatives when it comes to dealing with the scourge known as the opioid epidemic,” said Executive Director Carl Bergquist. “In announcing his intent to veto this important piece of legislation, Governor Ige referred to a ‘professional process’ that helps evaluate conditions for medical cannabis. While such a process exists, it is passive and actually sees the Department of Health, rather than an independent panel of experts like e.g. in New Mexico, evaluate submitted petitions instead of itself proposing new conditions to be added. It is meant to be a complement rather than the exclusive way to add new conditions. This is why conditions have been added via legislation in Hawai’i, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2015 and just last year in 2017, four other conditions (lupus, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis) were added this way. The addition of PTSD in particular has helped well over a thousand suffering patients. Moreover, the idea behind this particular bill comes from the Legislature’s own Oversight Working Group on Medical Cannabis, which is comprised of experts and patients, and sat for over a year before submitting its final report to the Legislature.”