“Feisty” isn’t a word that can properly contain my friend Brian Shaughnessy. He’s a 56-year-old, red-headed Irishman, lawyer, writer, dad-of-a-special-needs-Hawaiian son, widower and medical marijuana advocate. Brian is also a quadriplegic. He awoke paralyzed due to spinal surgery complications in 1983.

Which hasn’t stopped Brian at all. He gets more done on four wheels in a day than I do on two legs in a year: getting a law degree, writing his story “The Squeaky Wheel: An Unauthorized Autobiography” and going on a national book tour — plus doggedly advocating for patient access and medical cannabis reform in Hawaii these past 15 years.

Brian Shaughnessy

Lawyer and medical marijuana advocate Brian Shaughnessy.

Brian Shaughnessy

Now that Hawaii is about to have marijuana dispensaries and an easy, safe way for patients to buy their medicine, I wanted to see if my friend was in a celebratory mood.

I visited Brian at his apartment/Beatles shrine, which he shares with his 13-year-old son, Amadeus. I had met Amadeus last year, when he and his dad starred in the two-man play “Homage to Amy” that Brian wrote about his life in a wheelchair, the death of his wife and the boy’s mother at age 45 and his own patient’s rights advocacy.

I know, it sounds hilarious! But it actually was. Brian is a barrel of laughs and a bucket of tears.

In “The Squeaky Wheel,” you wrote about the surgery in 1983 that damaged your spine, resulting in your becoming quadriplegic. How did you discover cannabis could help?

Even before there was a (Hawaii medical cannabis) Blue Card, I was at UH and found that marijuana was the best thing to treat spasms. In 1989, a health aide was doing range of motion exercises with me and afterwards I said, “Gimme a hit,” and he gave me a hit of marijuana, and could see the difference in me immediately. It was instantaneous how it helped. His comment was, “You got a case!”

I went to my physiatrist at rehab, and he discovered there was a THC pill, and he let me try it because I already knew that marijuana worked. What discouraged me about the pill was that it was synthesized THC and cost over $2,000 a month — when you can get something better growing out of the ground? Seemed ridiculous.

As a result of the surgery and the spinal cord injury, I get wicked spasms that initiate in my hip, go all the way up to my ears and back down to my toes, and they knock the wind out of me. They are excruciating. Marijuana helps with the spasms, and they’re less frequent. It’s no joke.

Brian Shaughnessy and son Amadeus

Brian Shaughnessy and his son, Amadeus.

Brian Shaughnessy

What’s your preferred method of medicating?

I prefer to have it in a cookie or something, and I have capsules. But the easiest and most efficient way is to smoke it, I only need one or two hits a couple of times a day and I’m good to go.

What’s your history of medical marijuana advocacy in Hawaii?

I was one of the early Blue Card applicants and in 2001, I wheeled down to the Narcotics and Enforcement Agency and saw a cop in a bad suit. As an attorney, I wanted to make sure all the paperwork was done to their satisfaction. I don’t think law enforcement wanted the law to work or the responsibility of administering the program. And they certainly didn’t want me in their office. But they told me, “Everything’s good, don’t come down here anymore.” I said “OK, thank you, and nice suit!”

So then, the system has worked great for almost 15 years, right?

Not at all. The problem is they gave us the rights to our medicine but not the access.

What are some of the problems under the existing law? Patients could grow their own or be supplied by caregivers. Is it really such a hassle?

It’s absolutely a hassle! This notion that you get a handful of seeds, you throw them in the dirt, then money and weed grows out is a total fallacy. It’s hard, hard work and as a quadriplegic, impossible.

So I bought equipment so others could grow for me, but I’ve been robbed by big-talking, St. Francis-claiming rip-offs. I had 14 plants stolen from me weeks ago. Who wants to be known as the guy who stole the quadriplegic’s medical marijuana? Low.

So, it seems a new law will soon be on the books, with dispensaries opening July 15, 2016. Want to give the new dispensary bill a grade?

I’d give it a D.

Wow, harsh! At least it’s not an F.

I’m more disappointed than pleased — now they’re giving us the access but limiting the forms we can get it. The bill talks about tinctures and lozenges, but those are often made with butane, which is unsafe and toxic. Thank you, but I don’t want those products.

The bill does not explicitly provide for edibles, and the lawmakers have made it clear that they are not going to allow edibles and beverages. Which, like I said, is the preferred method for myself and a lot of patients.

Cannabis Product Samples

THC-infused product samples from Dixie Elixirs and Edibles company.

The bill does add “other products as specified by the Department of Health.” So maybe edibles will be added down the road, after seeing how Colorado and other states regulate them further. But why are edibles such a big deal?

The act of smoking itself is counterintuitive to healthy lungs — lungs are light and airy like cotton — there shouldn’t be smoke in there. Illogical to force sick people to smoke something.

We need edibles, and elixirs — there are so many new products now. Misinformed people are afraid of edibles, like “Oh, if you eat a cookie, you’ll be wasted for a whole day!” No, we learn to titrate (continuously measure and adjust the balance of a drug dosage).

The worst thing that ever happened to anyone who overdosed on pot was that they fell asleep.The other bad thing is the lack of access — only eight dispensaries per island. And the caregiver provision will be ending after December 2018, so how am I going to get my medicine? Will there be a delivery service like in California?

No mention of that in the bill, only that patients can still grow or buy at a dispensary after 2016.

And who will be running the dispensaries?

Well, not us! Applicants need $1.2 million in assets to apply for a license, plus about $130,000 in licensing fees the first year.

That’s not small business, that’s not going to open it up to local people. The people connected to the lawmakers with a million dollars in assets will benefit from this law. And not the small business person with the passion and skills to alleviate pain for his customers.

If you’re a successful dispensary or grower in Colorado or California, aren’t you absolutely jonesing for the new Hawaii market?

I do like it that licensees must be a Hawaii state resident for the prior five years. But instead of just letting millionaires grow and sell, it would’ve been great to tap local entrepreneurs, create more local businesses, and tourism.

There will be a medical tourism effect — the law allows reciprocity and recognizes out-of-state medical marijuana cards.

We’re Hawaii! We have some of the most amazing bud known to man. We have an incredible opportunity to alleviate profound pain for many, many sufferers and to do it naturally. The law could become something very great and I hope it does. It’s just not there yet.

For more information:

Full text of HB321

Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii FAQ’s on HB321

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