Despite overwhelming support from lawmakers, Hawaii Gov. David Ige has vetoed a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana treatments for opioid and substance use disorders.
The veto comes six months after the Hawaii State Legislature introduced the SB 2407, which passed by a large majority in early May. But by late June, Gov. Ige had announced his intention to veto the legislation. And on Tuesday, he followed through, returning SB 2407 to lawmakers without approval.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige Rejects Bill That Would Let Opioid Users Treat Addiction With Medical Marijuana
Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, already allow medical cannabis use to treat opioid and opiate addiction. And Hawaii was prepared to follow the three states’ lead.
The Hawaii State Legislature moved quickly to pass a bill that would allow people suffering from opioid use or addiction to use medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation.
After Gov. Ige announced his intention to veto the bill in late June, medical marijuana advocates and state lawmakers urged him to reconsider.
Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa called the matter “a life or death issue” for Hawaiians. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard echoed Hanabusa. “This legislation has the potential to save people’s lives in Hawaii,” she said.
There is an ongoing opioid epidemic across the United States. Overdose fatalities are the leading cause of death for people under 50.
But statistically, the opioid problem in Hawaii is less severe than in other places. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioid-related death rates were less than half the national rate in 2017, with 5.2 deaths per 100,000 persons.
Still, opioid-related overdose deaths are on the rise in Hawaii. And that’s the case even though Hawaii has one of the lowest prescribing rates of opioids in the country, according to NIDA.
Experts Debate Whether Cannabis Can Really Curb Opioid Use
The question of whether medical cannabis is an effective treatment for opioid addiction or an effective replacement painkiller is still up for debate.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who represents Hawaii’s 2nd district, cited a 20 percent decrease in opioid abuse deaths and lower addictions rates in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as evidence of the effectiveness of medical cannabis to treat these issues.
Additionally, researchers at the University of Georgia recently published a study which found the availability of medical cannabis reduced opioid prescriptions.
According to the study, which used data from Medicare Part D, prescriptions filled for all opioids decreased by 3.7 million daily doses a year in states that opened medical marijuana dispensaries.
But a recent landmark study out of Australia suggests the opposite. There, researchers found that cannabis use did not produce better outcomes than opioids for people suffering from chronic pain. The study also concluded that medical cannabis did not reduce or replace opioid use.
Here’s Why Hawaii’s Governor Vetoed a Medical Marijuana Bill for Opioid Addiction
Whether or not medical cannabis can effectively treat opioid addiction and chronic pain doesn’t seem to have influenced Gov. Ige’s decision, however.
Instead, the Governor of Hawaii had a different reason for vetoing SB 2407.
Gov. Ige pointed out that the Department of Health in Hawaii already has a process in place to add new qualifying conditions for medical cannabis treatments.
That formal process is something patients and physicians can initiate annually. The evidence-based petition process allows caregivers and patients to apply to add new conditions, including opioid use and withdrawal symptoms.
Gov. Ige, a Democrat, has consistently been cautious about his state’s cannabis policy. He opposes the legalization of recreational cannabis, for example, on account of the ongoing federal ban.
His decision to veto SB 2407 indicates the governor isn’t willing to put in place any “shortcuts” to accessing medical cannabis.
Gov. Ige is seeking re-election. But his opponent, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa has come out strongly in favor of more progressive cannabis policy for Hawaiians.