Number of police officers holding medical marijuana cards remains a mystery

Published On: Apr 12 2012 08:24:24 AM HST   Updated On: Apr 12 2012 09:16:09 AM HST

The April 6 arrest of Honolulu Police Department veteran Michael Steven Chu has shined a spotlight on the use of medical marijuana by law enforcement officers.

According to a criminal complaint, Chu holds a medical marijuana card in the state of Hawaii.

"It's a public policy issue for sure," said state Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "I think the public has a right to know that."

But, according to officials at the Honolulu Police Department, HPD has no official policy regarding the disclosure of medical marijuana cards issued to its officers.

Under a state law enacted in late 2000, the Police Department is forced to treat medical marijuana like any other prescription drug. The legislation allows card holders to possess three mature marijuana plants, four immature plants and three ounces of usable marijuana.

However, Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha said illegal marijuana use by any officer is grounds for dismissal.

"The use or possession of marijuana by a police officer is not condoned by the department and is clearly prohibited by law and departmental policy," said Kealoha. "The HPD remains opposed to all efforts to legalize marijuana."

HPD policy calls for officers of all ranks to be drug tested up to four times per year. It's not known if Chu ever failed a urinalysis during his 13 years on the force.

The union that represents police officers in all four Hawaii counties told KITV4 there's no way to know for sure how many officers have obtained medical marijuana cards.

"There's really no way, unless the officers voluntarily come up and disclose that," said Tenari Maafala, president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. "If they do have a medicinal card, they should disclose that early on."

Hee believes lawmakers could craft legislation that forces police officers and other first responders to disclose whether they participate in the state's medical marijuana program.

"We could do first responders (or) we could craft it narrower to law enforcement," said Hee. "It is a policy call that I believe the Legislature should definitely look into."

Maafala said he would be receptive to any new law or policy that requires police officers to disclose if they have obtained a medical marijuana certificate.

"If the chiefs of police come up with a policy that we can work together with, we're all for it," he said.

Chu was arrested along with a woman named Athena Lee after federal drug enforcement agents executed search warrants on Apartment 2708 at the Moana Pacific condominium in Kakaako, as well as a home in Mililani Mauka.

Police discovered 20 marijuana plants inside the condo, $12,000 in cash and materials consistent with an indoor marijuana growing operation, according to the criminal complaint. Agents also recovered a pound of processed marijuana and money orders inside Chu's subsidized police car.

Court documents show a search of the Mililani Mauka home at 95-1048 Puneki St. turned up 10 to 20 marijuana plants and documents that showed Chu and Lee had been living at the home.

On Wednesday, Chu and Lee were released from federal custody after each posted $25,000 in unsecured signature bonds. Both are being required to wear electronic monitoring devices as a condition of their release.

According to statistics from the Department of Public Safety, the number of people participating in Hawaii's medical marijuana program continues to grow. In fiscal year 2001, the number of people holding cards stood at 255. But, by fiscal year 2011, that number had reached 7,593.

"The sheer growth of the medical marijuana population suggests that government may need to visit this issue and evaluate the situation," said Hee.

The possession or distribution of marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but that hasn't stopped 17 states and the District of Columbia from enacting medical marijuana legislation.


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