HPD in er­ror over gun-pot pol­icy, chief says

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LOCAL - By Kris­ten Con­sil­lio kcon­sil­lio@starad­ver­tiser.com

Honolulu po­lice Chief Su­san Bal­lard said her de­part­ment’s con­tro­ver­sial pol­icy re­quir­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana pa­tients to re­lin­quish their guns was wrong.

“It is not il­le­gal to pos­sess the ones you al­ready have,” Bal­lard told the Honolulu Po­lice Com­mis­sion on Wed­nes­day. “Merely hav­ing a med­i­cal mar­i­juana card doesn’t mean you’re us­ing mar­i­juana. We can’t prove you’re us­ing mar­i­juana. Our prac­tice of hav­ing them turn in their firearms was in­cor­rect.”

The de­part­ment is re­turn­ing firearms to two peo­ple who vol­un­tar­ily re­lin­quished their guns, Bal­lard said.

How­ever, HPD will con­tinue to deny new gun per­mits for med­i­cal mar­i­juana pa­tients while it reviews a pol­icy that went into ef­fect in Septem­ber 2016.

The re­con­sid­er­a­tion fol­lows com­mu­nity back­lash since the Honolulu Star-Ad­ver­tiser re­ported last week that HPD sent let­ters to at least 30 gun own­ers, say­ing they had 30 days to bring in or trans­fer own­er­ship of all firearms.

There were 35 gun per­mit de­nials for cannabis pa­tients so far this year, HPD records show.

There were 35 gun per­mit de­nials for cannabis pa­tients so far this year, HPD records show.

Bal­lard also said five HPD of­fi­cers have been au­tho­rized to ver­ify De­part­ment of Health mar­i­juana reg­istry records for firearms per­mit ap­pli­cants, though con­fi­den­tial pa­tient in­for­ma­tion is not re­leased in that process.

Re­tired state Supreme Court Jus­tice Steven Levin­son, a mem­ber of the Po­lice Com­mis­sion, ques­tioned why the de­part­ment was deny­ing firearm per­mits for mar­i­juana pa­tients but not peo­ple us­ing much stronger pre­scrip­tion drugs.

“I’m a lit­tle puz­zled as to why the dis­tinc­tion be­tween med­i­cal mar­i­juana and med­i­cal opi­oids,” he told Bal­lard.

“I re­ally can’t an­swer that ques­tion,” she said. “The main thing is … what fed­eral law is telling us.”

Fed­eral law pro­hibits an “un­law­ful user” of any con­trolled sub­stance from pos­sess­ing firearms, and un­der fed­eral law, mar­i­juana is a con­trolled sub­stance. Bal­lard said that in­cludes care­givers of cannabis pa­tients with mar­i­juana cards.

“I rec­og­nize the co­nun­drum,” said Com­mis­sioner Loretta Ann Shee­han. “(But) re­spect­fully it seems ridicu­lous. Keep­ing your old guns vi­o­lates fed­eral law. That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Carl Bergquist, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Drug Pol­icy Fo­rum of Hawaii, tes­ti­fied be­fore the com­mis­sion that HPD should re­visit the pol­icy since med­i­cal cannabis is le­gal un­der state law.

“On be­half of physi­cians, nurses, care­givers and pa­tients involved in the med­i­cal cannabis pro­gram, the as­sump­tion that they’re all im­paired or a dan­ger to so­ci­ety is a great in­sult,” he said. “A pol­icy like this could push peo­ple out of the reg­u­lated sys­tem. We think these pa­tients should not be stig­ma­tized in this fash­ion.”

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