- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - A group protesting the possibility of legal marijuana in Hawaii told lawmakers Tuesday that pharmaceutical companies would try to hook people on the drug.

The tobacco and alcohol industries serve as examples of what could happen if cannabis is decriminalized, said Dr. Kevin Sabet, co-founder of Washington-based Project SAM, which stands for Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

“Addictive industries rely on addicts for profit,” Sabet said. “They can only make more money if they addict more people.”

Bills to decriminalize marijuana were defeated in the Hawaii Legislature this session, but House Majority Whip Sharon Har said the state still must to examine the issue because of advocates’ push to legalize the substance in Hawaii.

“We have to learn from the mistakes of other states,” Har said. Colorado opened its pot shops at the start of the year, and Washington expected to launch sales later this year.

Lawmakers also brought up the topic because it’s an election year, she said.

Advocates for decriminalization of marijuana attended the hearing to find common ground, said Pamela Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Forum for Hawaii. The group, which wants to see marijuana taxed, regulated and controlled, pushed for decriminalization in the Legislature. Many Americans have tried the drug, including the country’s last three presidents, Lichty said.

“We should deal with marijuana using evidence-based research, and we don’t feel that SAM works on an evidence-based approach,” Lichty said.

Young people are particularly vulnerable being targeted by industries pushing drugs, even if it’s unintentional, Sabet said. For example, a child might not be able to tell the difference between a normal cookie and one baked with marijuana.

States such as California that permit medicinal marijuana are seeing dispensaries pop up next to schools and churches, the group said.

People in Hawaii are already showing up every weekend in emergency rooms in states of psychosis after heavy use of synthetic cannabis or other drugs, said Sen. Josh Green, chairman of the Senate Health Committee. Some beat their partners during drug-induced psychosis, he said.

“Their significant other or spouse is there, begging me to help them find services to get them off the drugs,” Green said. But the state doesn’t have the resources to help everyone, Green said.

Some in the audience took issue with his remarks.

Severe reactions like psychosis may be associated with synthetic marijuana, but not regular marijuana, Lichty said.

A bill to expand the types of doctors that can recommend marijuana in Hawaii was also heard in a Senate committee Tuesday, but it was deferred until April 1.

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