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<p>From left, John Redman, Kevin Sabet and Patrick Kennedy met with the community to speak about Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) on Wednesday afternoon at Kanu o ka Aina in Waimea. PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO | SPECIAL TO NHN</p>

From left, John Redman, Kevin Sabet and Patrick Kennedy met with the community to speak about Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) on Wednesday afternoon at Kanu o ka Aina in Waimea. PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO | SPECIAL TO NHN

<p>Former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy spoke at a community meeting at Kanu o ka Aina school on Wednesday afternoon, as he and other involved members discussed Smart Approaches to Marijuana.(PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy spoke at a community meeting at Kanu o ka Aina school on Wednesday afternoon, as he and other involved members discussed Smart Approaches to Marijuana.(PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>John Redman, executive director of Californians for Drug Free Youth (CADFT), speaks at a community meeting discussing marijuana policies and the effects on communities on March 20 at Kanu o ka Aina school in Waimea. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

John Redman, executive director of Californians for Drug Free Youth (CADFT), speaks at a community meeting discussing marijuana policies and the effects on communities on March 20 at Kanu o ka Aina school in Waimea. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Hoku Pagan, a concerned and involved young member of the community, speaks about her own personal concerns about changing marijuana policies during a meeting at Kanu o ka Aina on Wednesday afternoon. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Hoku Pagan, a concerned and involved young member of the community, speaks about her own personal concerns about changing marijuana policies during a meeting at Kanu o ka Aina on Wednesday afternoon. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Involved community members met at Kanu o ka Aina on March 20, as Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) was presented. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Involved community members met at Kanu o ka Aina on March 20, as Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) was presented. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy spoke at a community meeting at Kanu o ka Aina school on Wednesday afternoon, as he and other involved members discussed Smart Approaches to Marijuana. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy spoke at a community meeting at Kanu o ka Aina school on Wednesday afternoon, as he and other involved members discussed Smart Approaches to Marijuana. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

Representative Patrick Kennedy visited Hawaii Island for a few hours Wednesday, March 20, standing up for “Smart Approaches to Marijuana,” or SAM, the organization he co-chairs with Dr. Kevin Sabet, former White House drug policy advisor.

With James Redman of Californians for Drug Free Youth, the SAM team spoke with about 60 community leaders in two invitation-only sessions at Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School.

The purpose of the forum was to encourage intelligent, informed conversation about decriminalization of marijuana, and its potential impacts on our Hawaii Island communities. According to SAM, the state of Hawaii is one of six states being targeted for legalization, with bills moving very quickly through the legislation process nationwide.

Project SAM describes itself as “a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens who want to move beyond simplistic discussions of ‘incarceration versus legalization’ when discussing marijuana use, and instead focus on practical changes in marijuana policy that neither demonizes users nor legalizes the drug.”

The SAM team was invited by the Friday Night Crew youth group and community coalition, which is part of The Pantry nonprofit, which also includes Mama’s House Thrift Store and Waimea Artists’ Guild. The group will participate in a new Hawaii Chapter of SAM that launched last week during the team’s visit to Oahu, Hawaii Island and Lanai. The Pantry’s executive director, Beth Mehau, met with Kennedy during an East Coast trip earlier this year.

Kennedy, son of the late Senator Ted and Joan Kennedy, served as U.S. Representative of Rhode Island for 16 years. During that time, his own struggle with addiction motivated him to advocate for numerous mental health causes, including substance abuse prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery.

Perception of risk

“In Hawaii the perception of marijuana as ‘not harmful’ is high,” said Kennedy. “When something is perceived as a threat there is less use. In a permissive environment, more people will use.”

“Hawaii’s rates of marijuana use are significantly higher than in the rest of the country,” he said in a statement earlier. “I have seen firsthand the debilitating effects of marijuana addiction. It’s more than just the addict, it’s the families who suffer, too.”

Revenue vs. costs

“Proponents say you’re going to be able to tax this and make money,” said Kennedy. “For every dollar in taxes there is 10 times the cost in other areas–the cost of expanding usage far outweighs the revenue.”

Social costs, for law enforcement, emergency health care and long-term treatment, for example, are 10 times more costly than tax revenues.

The SAM team also emphasized that decriminalizing marijuana will not necessarily free up resources to focus on other drugs, such as crystal methamphetamine.

“One-tenth of one per cent of prisoners are imprisoned for marijuana,” said Sabet. “Hawaii is last for number of arrests for marijuana.”

Medical use

Sabet said that only 5 percent of medically certified marijuana users actually have glaucoma, HIV-AIDS or serious chronic pain from cancer.

“The average user in California is a 32-year-old white male with a history of substance abuse … and he has neck pain,” said Sabet. “It ruins it for people who could benefit.”

Sabet said that medicinal marijuana was available in non-smoked forms, for controlled dosage, without the intoxicating effects.

The team described what was happening in California and Colorado, where marijuana dispensaries outnumber Starbucks. Their presentation included photos of marijuana dispensaries lining a Venice Beach, California street, emblazoned with the familiar green leaf, many with hawkers out front.

“When people in white coats pretend to care for the sick, it’s offensive to those who really are sick,” said Sabet.

Targeting youth

Friday Night Crew member Hoku Pagan, 15, talked about her visit to Venice Beach last summer.

“I was seeing adults approach kids our age, wearing jackets, and saying it’s OK for everybody to partake,” she said. “And I thought, if this becomes legal, people are going to be lined up on our beaches and in our parks, trying to persuade us to get started using … It’s going to be scary. It’s going to hurt to see that.”

“Prevention is a youth issue,” said Redman. “If you’re going to do prevention, you have to set up an environment where kids don’t do drugs. My question to Hawaii, is Hawaii really going to set up a normative culture of drug use in paradise? How do we expect kids to say ‘no’ when we adults are saying ‘yes’? How can you disregard the future of our state?”

Legislation

SB472 (as amended) is a bill making its way through the legislative process at the State level; it proposes to make possession of one ounce of marijuana or less a civil offense, with a $1,000 fine. Details of the bill are available at www.capitol.hawaii.gov. Additionally, a resolution urging the Hawaii County Council to support the bill is scheduled to be heard at the council meeting today, Thursday, March 28, at the West Hawaii Civic Center.

There are many different opinions regarding the legal status of pakalolo. A smart approach to marijuana would be one that’s well-informed, and prepared for possible impacts in our community. For more information about Project SAM, please visit www.LearnAboutSam.org.