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Hawaii State Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill
By Mike Gordon HONOLULU, April 26 (Reuters) - Hawaii is set to become the first state to enact a medical marijuana law through its legislature, following passage of a bill legalizing the medical use of the drug in the state Senate.

Once the bill is signed by Gov. Ben Cayetano, Hawaii will join seven other states with similar laws. The laws in those states, however, were the result of voter ballot initiatives.

The bill, passed by the state Senate Tuesday night and previously by the state House of Representatives, was introduced the governor, who has vowed to sign it into law, probably by this summer.

It removes state-level penalties for seriously ill people whose doctors prescribe the use of marijuana to ease pain.

The bill allows such patients to acquire, possess, cultivate, distribute, transport and use marijuana for medical reasons.

But despite state laws allowing the medical use of marijuana, it is still considered a violation of federal law.

"Following on the heels of an unbroken string of state ballot initiative victories on this issue, this is the first time that a state legislature has passed a law to make marijuana medically available," said Dr. Donald Topping, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii.

"It is my hope that Hawaii's example will encourage other state legislatures to follow suit and send a message to the federal government."

Alaska, Washington, California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Maine and the District of Columbia have approved medical use of marijuana.

"The federal law is certainly a thorn in our side as far as the medical use of marijuana is concerned," Chuck Thomas of the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group, told Reuters.

But he hoped that the Hawaii action would open up a "second wave" in the battle to get the U.S. Congress to pass a similar federal law.

"Hawaii is going to show, 'Look, this is a legislature that has done this. It is no different from Congress except that it is in a state, not in Washington D.C.' This is the beginning of the second wave of the medical marijuana campaign. The first wave was the ballot initiatives. The second wave will be state legislatures passing bills, and the third and final wave will be Congress changing the federal laws," Thomas said.

Hawaiian state senators engaged in heated debate for more than hour before approving the measure 15-10.

"Drugs is a problem in our society that is ripping apart our community, that affects many lives, right here in our neighborhoods as we speak," shouted Sen. Marshall Ige, a Democrat. One senator asked: "What's next, cocaine?"

Police, the Hawaii Medical Association and the Board of Medical Examiners all oppose the bill. "If you are allowed to use medical marijuana, you can put your patch in your backyard and your kids, the neighborhood kids can hop over the fence and pluck to their delight," said Maj. Susan Dowsett, commander of the Honolulu Police Department's narcotics and vice division

"There is no requirement to secure it at all," she added.

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