The Department of Health has scheduled public hearings statewide on Oct. 8 to consider adding another “debilitating medical condition” to the list of what qualifies for a “medical use of cannabis” license. That condition is “Opioid Use Disorder and Withdrawal.”

If accepted, junkies could get cannabis legally — and that’s all right with me. But isn’t it ironic? Over and over, for more than 80 years, we’ve been told that pot smoking can lead to heroin addiction. Now the DOH is looking to establish that heroin addiction can lead to pot smoking!

Okay, that’s funny. But there is a serious, unaddressed problem with licensing the “medical use of cannabis.”

Dried marijuana flowers on display at The Guild in San Jose, California.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Despite recent “decriminalization,” the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis in Hawaii is still illegal, with fines (or harsher penalties) imposed upon conviction. Even upon arrest, without conviction, the state can seize property supposedly connected to a marijuana offense. But anyone who has obtained a license is exempt from arrest, prosecution and punishment.

Hawaii has thereby established and defined two unequal classes of people within its jurisdiction: One entitled to break the law, while the other remains subject to it. This is discriminatory and manifestly unfair.

The rationale for issuing “medical” cannabis licenses is indisputable: People who are sick deserve compassion, and if cannabis makes them feel better, they should be free to use it. The list of “debilitating medical conditions” that entitle a person to obtain a license is long, and will surely, after these scheduled hearings, grow one condition longer.

But face the fact: In the words of Bob Dylan, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Unless we are caught in a horrible accident, commit suicide, or are murdered, we are all going to die from some “debilitating medical condition.” It may not yet produce symptoms, but we all have some “condition” that will kill us – not the least of which is the inexorable decay of our bodies’ life-support systems that we call “old age.”

We are all sick unto death. So are we not – all of us – therefore entitled to use cannabis, if it makes us feel better?

Why should one group of people be legally permitted to violate the cannabis laws, while everyone else who does so risks fines, confiscated property, or incarceration?

Hawaii has established and defined two unequal classes of people within its jurisdiction.

Consider this analogy: People who are suffering from some “debilitating medical condition” are likely to have shorter lives than healthy people. So we should license them to break the speed limit when they drive. They have less time to spend on earth, and it would be compassionate to let them drive faster, to make up for the shortfall in longevity.

Absurd? Sure. But the analogy breaks down only because speeding puts other people at risk, whereas using cannabis does not.

In 2000, Hawaii was a pioneer – the first state to license cannabis for medicinal purposes. Yet for the next 18 years, Hawaii failed to create a legal marketplace; we enabled dispensaries only last year.

Anti-pot crusaders are right about one thing: medical cannabis is the “camel’s nose under the tent” – it’s the first step toward legalizing recreational use. But to cite another cliché, “the handwriting is on the wall.” Across the U.S., a dozen states have already legalized recreational cannabis, and more are on the verge of doing so. In Hawaii, we have the brains to copy, adapt, or make our own framework for building on the dispensary model to establish retail outlets, regulate the products, and tax the transactions.

So, on Oct. 8 … I say: Yes. The DOH should permit junkies to smoke pot instead of shooting smack or popping pills. It’s healthier!

But the DOH should also focus on helping our legislators and our governor understand and overcome the inequality of the cannabis laws.  It is hypocritical for Hawaii to continue allowing the use of cannabis by some, while prohibiting its use by all.

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