Guam Residents Raise Concerns About Medical Marijuana Rules

Draft developed by Attorney General’s office needs more public input 

By Shawn Raymundo

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, May 26, 2016) – The latest draft of the rules and regulations for the island’s highly-anticipated medical marijuana program was met with public criticism on Tuesday evening.

A handful of citizens from throughout the island went to the Dededo Senior Center to weigh in on the changes made to the proposed bylaws, which were recently signed off on by the attorney general’s office.

While those who testified were happy that the marijuana program was moving forward, they all had concerns with the current draft of the rules that they felt should be addressed in future markup discussions.

One worry was brought up by 54-year-old Edward Santos of Yona. Under the current conditions of the program’s rules, marijuana growers are responsible for taking their product to a laboratory for testing.

Santos raised the concern of whether home-growers, who are cultivating marijuana for themselves, would be required to take their marijuana to a laboratory.

Others, including Andrea Pellacani, president of the local group Women Grow Guam, expressed frustration with the island’s leaders and elected officials for the lack of urgency in getting the program set up.

“I am told that there are many frustrations by people awaiting this program and they are not happy,” Pellacani said. “Little attention has been made to the mandate of the people, it was the will of the people that enacted this program and the voice of the people needs to be heard.”

Pellacani criticized Department of Public Health and Social Services Director James Gillan for having a “lack of compassion for the patients,” which, she said, has led the territory to adopt a program that doesn’t suit the island’s needs.

“We are left with a dysfunctional program, which is a skeleton of a terrible Arizona (medical marijuana) program that was selected purely for financial reasons, with little consideration given to compassion for the patients,” she said. “Our medical cannabis program was essentially built on a house of cards and that house of cards just collapsed.”

One of the biggest concerns the local group had with the proposed program, Pellacani said, was its inability to divert the illicit marijuana market on island into the regulated market.

“This program is not going to sustain itself. No one is going to buy on a regulated market, there’s no benefit to do so,” she said, adding: “So patients will continue purchasing illicit cannabis because there’s no benefit to purchasing it on the regulated market.”

Comparing the proposed regulated market on Guam to the current black market, while also slamming public health for only slightly reducing the cost to operate a dispensary under the program, Pellacani explained that further amendments to the rules and regulations should focus on putting most of the regulated market into the dispensaries.

“And that’s the way we need to view this program and how we need to build it, is taking the regulated market and putting into a dispensary so we can ask for identification,” she said, further noting that dispensaries would make it harder for kids to get their hands on the products.

Lynn Wolf, a 50-year-old Tamuning resident who has 30 years of experience as a health care worker, raised concerns with a patient’s right to privacy under the draft rules.

“Mandatory surrender of medical records in order to qualify for medical cannabis as an alternative medication is a direct contradiction to the spirit of HIPPA and may unjustly make a patient hesitant to enroll in the medical cannabis program,” she stated.

Noting that other types of medication and treatments aren’t scrutinized under a review board or registry program, Wolf said physicians should be able to prescribe marijuana based on the patients’ needs.

“Allowing a well educated, informed patient the option of using medical cannabis without scrutiny, for any reason deemed appropriate by their physician, is equivalent to allowing that same physician to prescribe customary pharmaceuticals,” she said.

Wolf also noted that the list of acceptable medical conditions “do not begin to cover the wide range of diseases that can cause symptoms including chronic pain, eating disorders, mental health issues and disabilities.”

For patients to qualify for medicinal cannabis under the current rules, they must have debilitating conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, HIV or post-traumatic stress disorder, to name a few.

“The key to a successful program in Guam will be effective patient and physician education along with fair dispensation to all patients in need of natural, alternative pharmaceutical products,” she said, concluding her testimony.

Sen. Tina Muna Barnes, who led the public hearing on behalf of the Legislature’s Committee on Health, acknowledged the struggles and complications that have delayed the implementation of the program, while noting that Guam hasn’t been the only place in the U.S. to experience such difficulties.

“I want to say that this hasn’t been an easy process, but we’re making headway,” Barnes said. “Communities throughout the nation have been experiencing many of the same hiccups we are now, but they have built programs that suit their populations.”

“With your help I know that Guam can do the same,” she added.

The next public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Sinajana Senior Center.

Pacific Daily News
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