Landmark MMJ case in Hawaii- Mike Ruggles champions patient's rights.



     It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the biggest thing in medical cannabis in Hawaii is not the highly anticipated opening medical cannabis dispensaries across the island chain. The biggest thing in medical cannabis is a landmark criminal case on the Big Island that will clarify Act 178 insuring that patients have an alternate way to legally obtain medicine, plants and seeds, the collective model.

  An answer for the nagging question "Now I have my MMJ card, where do I get cannabis, seeds, or plants?" has eluded patients across the state for over 15 years. Fact is, even with licenses granted and dispensaries growing herb to legally sell this summer, seeds and clones will still be left in a "grey area", also known as the black market. The new legislation that has gone into effect allowing for dispensaries made many changes.  But Act 178 passed in 2013 recently went into full effect in January 2015 and changed the game forever. As is with everything now-a-daze, the devil's in the details.

     One man, Mike Ruggles has been paying very close attention to the details. Understandably so since Mike has been at the center of cannabis happenings for decades. Most recently taking a pro-se law suit all the way to the Hawaii State Supreme court and narrowly losing a 3-2 decision. He still says the majority got it wrong with it's decision in the Lowest Law Enforcement Priority lawsuit he jointly filed to make the police follow a law voted on and passed by the people. He has already filed the United States Supreme Court brief.

     When it comes to cannabis law in Hawaii, perhaps there is nobody more learned than Mike. He quotes Hawaii Revised Statues like Chapter and Verse. His biggest contention is that officials and those in authority are less than familiar with the law and/or have chose to interpret the law as they see fit. Therefore, putting patients at risk. Mike Ruggles is a man driven to fight for what is right, or at least that is his version. He's not all bluster. In fact, he's put his freedom on the line. On September 10th he was arrested and charged with 31 charges for running Hawaii's first Medical Cannabis Collective.

   The official opening of the Alternative Pain Management Pu'uhonua Collective in January 2015 was not only well thought out and planned but Mike Ruggles says that he spoke and wrote to practically every official with regards to the changes in medical marijuana law (Act 178) that now allowed for transfer of cannabis between patients. It is this very distinction in the law that allows for medical marijuana collectives to operate asserts Ruggles. So confident of this, Mike produced a YouTube video and eventually a radio advertisement that played all over the Big Island.

     "Collectives are the best way to go because they are decentralized. The money stays in the community, there's no big warehouse to rip off or pile of money to steal, there is better quality with outdoor, a better selection with different patients growing different strains and it is way cheaper. We had consignment medicine for as little as $100 and ounce. Regular folks spare no expense for the medicine they grow. Dispensaries are profit driven and they will cut corners."

     Ruggles says he never made a dime from the collective. "We warehoused medicine for patients. There was a 20%  fee paid to the collective. All that money went to purchases for the collective like the purge oven, the THC testing equipment and other supplies"

This is a video Mike has on youtube describing the collective....

     The collective was open for nine months before is was raided by local police. Now this case might look complicated enough to the common person but this story goes deeper. Beyond a simple case of a cannabis activist v. the police over patients' rights, this case goes hand in hand with another case, another law suit filled by Mike Ruggles. In 2014, Mike filled suit against Officers Ian Leeloy, Mike Santos and the Hawaii County police Department for harassment and conducting relentless raids known as "compliance checks". The very officer he is suing for harassment (Leeloy) is the led investigator of the APM Pu'uhonua Collective bust. Mike Ruggles contends that the raid and bust are further evidence that he has been targeted by Leeloy and police for his activism and standing up to dirty police tactics. He also claims that Leeloy threatened him by saying "...I'll come kick your ass and take all your weed" when Mike originally refused to allow the"compliance check". 

    Ruggles asserts police entrapped him by falsifying documents to a licensed doctor in order to gain a legal/legitimate recommendation for a Medical Marijuana card then signed up as a member of the collective.

   "He lied about everything, to the doctor, to everybody!" says Ruggles, contending he broke no law. He says he was distributing cannabis legally (Act 178).

   "Act 178 changed, amended HRS 329-121. It literally crossed out a few words that restricted the transfer (of cannabis) only between a patient and caregiver. They crossed it out."

    Act 178 does, in fact remove the words "from the primary caregiver to the qualifying patient" by literally drawing a line through the language (crossing it out). It appears that this was intentionally done and there must be a reason. What this exactly means legally is at the center of this controversy. Mike Ruggles says it is not a controversy because the law is clear and the intent of Act 178 is also clear. Ruggles also points out that many lawyers agree with him but his ongoing criminal case says clearly that the State prosecutor's office and the Hawaii Police Department do not agree that Act 178 allows for patients to distribute medically among themselves.

     And there's that pesky question of "where do I get seeds or plants to grow my medical marijuana?". As stated before, this question will not be answered with the new dispensary system about to open this summer. Again, Mike Ruggles says he knows why this very important facet of the medical marijuana program was left alone.

    "The only legal place to get it (plants or seeds) legally is from another patient. Even the dispensaries cannot sell seeds or plants" said Ruggles. "You must agree, you gotta get them somewhere, right? This is why they crossed out the language, to remove this very obstacle. This is the biggest obstacle of all for patients the last 15 years and the intent of Act 178 was to remove obstacles. Check it out yourself". In the first paragraph of Act 178 it reads" After 12 years, the experience of the program indicates that improvements to the law will help to fulfill its original intent by clarifying provisions and removing serious obstacles to patient access and physician participation" The language is clear.

    "They removed the most serious obstacle, distribution. They used to limit distribution, transportation and possession and only protected between patient and caregiver. They removed that. Does that mean that patients can no longer have caregivers? Or does it mean patients can distribute among themselves? Unequivocally they can otherwise the caregiver program would have ceased in 2015. Did it? No, it did not." says Ruggles.

   It seems the authorities may have taken a bite to big when arresting Ruggles. Mike says he understands why the cops and prosecutors don't agree. "They don't get it, they haven't really read Act 178. there's only one way to interpret it" Ruggles says he sent a letter to prosecutor Mitch Roth asking his legal opinion on Act 178 and why' Roth has yet to reply. Again, the devil's in the details. All of these will be worked out at the trial which Ruggles vows. "we're going to trial, no ifs ands or buts. Unless they let go. As pro-se I'm gonna file a few motions that could make them let go"

    It is understandable why Ruggles is so passionate. Mike is facing 3 life sentences plus 32 years in prison for operating the collective. Not to say Mike hasn't been on the forefront of cannabis activism for years, in fact since Roger Christie went to prison, Mike has taken the lead as the states most active activist. He was even featured on National Geographic's Drugs Inc. See him here at 25:10

   "They've been harassing since '07 when Officer John Weber busted me. He was named National Officer of the year for busting over 1,000 people for cannabis people on the Big Island. He had a 100% kill rate. He lied so much in my case that I put an ad out in the paper saying 'got medical marijuana but got busted anyway? United We Stand' with my phone number. In one month I had hundreds of responses all saying John Weber screwed me". Mike sued John Weber and the police for harassment, perjury and Constitutional violations. Judge Kobiyashi ruled in his favor as a "sugared appeal" but Ruggle's had asked for no money so all he won was the court agreeing with him.

   "I ran him off the island (John Weber). He didn't even return to the island as a witness for several trials where he was the lead officer. Leeloy was pissed off because Weber was his buddy. Apparently they were very close!" said Ruggles. 

   When asked if this all has become personal Ruggles responded "he threatened to kick my ass years ago but didn't, wouldn't back it up. I didn't take it personal, he's just a sissy"

   This fight is far from over. This case should finally set the story straight. The State has stood silent on many of the issues that Ruggles brings up. After the trial the final word on medical cannabis distribution in Hawaii will settle the score. The very idea of a patient collective is in peril. Not all MMJ patients can afford dispensary medicine and want to grow it themselves or prefer their friend's medicine (strain). Why not have patients distribute among themselves? According to Mike Ruggles "it's perfectly legal". Mike has put his life on the line to back up his assertion.  If he wins, he will change the face of medical marijuana in Hawaii and be a hero to many patients across the state. As his own lawyer, expenses have added up. He has a link for donations.

Written by: Jason Lamoore


     UPDATE: the department of Health has revoked Mikes MMJ card. He is in the process of appeal as of the publishing of this story.