Interview with Man Who Faces 77 Years in Prison for Medical Marijuana Collective

Mike Ruggles is shown outside Hilo’s courthouse. Courtesy photo.

Fern Acres resident and medical marijuana activist Mike Ruggles will have a court hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, in the Hilo Third Circuit Court in front of Judge Nakamura. Ruggles is charged with running an “un-permitted medical marijuana dispensary” and is facing 77 years in prison.

After the police arrested Ruggles on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, the collective has since closed.

Ruggles daughter, Councilmember Jennifer Ruggles, posted the following to her Facebook account:

“Collectives are like farmers markets while dispensaries are like Walmarts for medical cannabis. I believe patients should options,” said Councilwoman Ruggles. “Come help support the man fighting so our island can have Collectives in addition to Dispensaries. Collectives are patient owned and supported, and support local patients and caregivers by allowing patients to transfer among themselves while Dispensaries are run by the rich for the rich,” she added. 

Supporters of Ruggles set up a crowd funding page where 70 people so far have contributed over $3,500.

Ruggles stated on Facebook, “I opened Hawai‘i’s first medical marijuana collective modeled after successful collectives in California, and we were raided a few months ago. While I’m facing 77 years in prison, this is an opportunity to set precedence for medical marijuana collectives in Hawai‘i.”

Big Island Now spoke to Ruggles at his house today in Fern Acres:

The following is a release that was sent to media following his arrest while he was still in jail:

Michael Ruggles, 58, a medical cannabis patient and activist who operates the Alternative Pain Management Pu`uhonua’s Collective out of his home in Fern Acres, was raided and arrested on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.

Ruggles’ private medical cannabis collective provides a means for members to dispose of excess medical cannabis via transfer to other members who have also been authorized to use medical cannabis. Ruggles’ collective allows members to comply with the quantity restrictions set forth in Hawai`i’s medical marijuana laws and maintain an uninterrupted supply of safe medical cannabis.
The police served a search warrant and seized all the medical cannabis being cultivated on the property registered to multiple patients and caregivers, in addition to several Collective member’s excess medical cannabis in its various forms.

All business and tax records, members’ files containing protected health information, electronic devices, fine jewelry, professional music recording gear, other property resident firearms, his daughter’s college text book, a greeting card containing a personal message and some food were also confiscated from the collective. No property receipt was left by the police for the seized items.
Ruggles is being charged with 30 violations for allegedly operating an unauthorized dispensary even though the Pu’uhonua is operated as a collective. Bail has been set at $84,500.

The numerous collective medical cannabis patients who relied on the collective as a safe means to obtain their doctor approved medicine are now being forced to turn to the black market or go without.

The raid was based upon an undercover officer who presented a false doctor’s written certification that stated he was in the process of obtaining a medical marijuana card under an alias and was allowed to be processed as a member.

Under HRS 329 Medical Use of Marijuana Laws, conditions of use are defined and specify that patients must have a written certification under a physician to use medical cannibis and does not require the patient to register with the Department of Health and Department of Safety as a condition of use. It was under this premise, that the undercover officer was allowed to acquire medical cannabis according to a collective volunteer and member.

Ruggles’ is currently being held at a Hilo police cell block and his first court appearance is on Monday, Sept. 14, 2015 at 1 p.m. Friends who recently visited Ruggles say that he is in high spirits and prepared to defend the rights of medical cannabis patients to safely dispose and acquire medicine within the confines of the law.

Waimea Town Meeting to Focus on Medical Cannabis

California State University file image.

Representatives of Hawaiian Ethos have been invited to a Waimea Community Association (WCA) Town Meeting on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, at 5:15 p.m. to provide an overview of their plans to cultivate and dispense medical cannabis to Hawai‘i Island patients.

Medical cannabis has been legal in Hawai‘i since 2000, but access to medical cannabis was challenging. Initially the Hawai‘i law enabled patients and caregivers to legally grow their own plants within certain parameters. Then in 2015, the State Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law Act 241, which became codified as Chapter 329D of the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes, to establish a dispensary licensure program to make medicinal marijuana products readily available for registered patients while balancing the health and safety of patients and the public.

Today in Hawai‘i, eight licensees have received permission to operate dispensaries for licensed medical cannabis patients. Two such licensees have been authorized for Hawai‘i Island – including one group that will source its flower from Waimea. One of the companies, known as Hawaiian Ethos, has plans to open their first dispensary in Kona in the Spring and a second dispensary in Hilo later this year. Both dispensary locations will offer the full range of products that are allowed by Hawai‘i State regulations including flower, tinctures, tablets and capsules in a variety of dosages.

The Hawaiian Ethos team is led by Interim CEO Luis Mejia and COO Zachary Taffany.

Representatives of Hawaiian Ethos have been invited to a Waimea Community Association (WCA) Town Meeting on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, at 5:15 p.m. to provide an overview of their plans to cultivate and dispense medical cannabis to Hawaii Island patients.

The Hawai‘i State Department of Health’s Office of Health Care Assurance has regulatory responsibility for Hawai‘i’s dispensary licensure program to ensure patient safety, public safety, and product safety and to ensure licensee comply with state law. This includes statewide oversight of the laboratories that test the safety and quality of the cannabis and manufactured cannabis products, and onsite inspections and monitoring of licensed dispensaries that grow, manufacture and sell medical cannabis products to qualifying patients.

There is no charge to attend the meeting although membership in the association is urged and dues for 2018 are due. Annual WCA membership is $15 for individuals and $25 for families, and because the organization is a not-for-profit, dues are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.

The program will begin with Hawai‘i County council members providing an update on council business and Community Policing Officer Kelena Ho‘okano reporting on recent incidents and community safety concerns.

The spotlighted community non-profit for the evening will be North Hawai‘i Community Hospital’s much needed emergency room expansion project which seeks to raise about $1 million from the local community to be matched with $24 million from other public and private sources, including $1.5 million from the 2018 State Legislature. As has become a monthly custom at town meetings, attendees will be encouraged to make a tax deductible donation to this not-for-profit organization.

Starbucks will provide steaming hot coffee and the association board will provide cookies.

The meeting will be located at the Waimea School cafeteria, 67-1225 Mamalahoa Highway in Kamuela.

For more info see the website, Facebook, or call Patti Cook at (808) 937-2833 or email cookshi@aol.com.

BIPC Call for Scholarship Applicants

The Big Island Press Club (BIPC) announces the availability of scholarships for students pursuing higher education in journalism and related careers. Last year, BIPC awarded a total of $4,600 to six Hawai‘i Island students at its annual scholarship dinner.

Application deadline is Monday, April 2, 2018. To qualify applicants must:

  • Have Big Island residential ties
  • Demonstrate an interest in journalism or related career
  • Be enrolled as a full-time student and show a record of academic achievement.

Annually BIPC offers scholarships honoring past Big Island journalists and advocates. The awards include the Robert C. Miller Memorial Scholarship, the Bill Arballo Scholarship, the Marcia Reynolds Scholarship, the Yukino Fukubori Memorial Scholarship, the Jack Markey Memorial Scholarship and the Hugh Clark Scholarship. Awards are determined by the BIPC Scholarship Committee to qualified applicants.

Past BIPC scholarship winners include Hawai‘i Tribune Herald reporter John Burnett, Waiākea High School graduate and Wall Street Journal writer Grad Alex Bitter, HMSA Senior Vice President Elisa Yadao, owner of Hiehie Communiications Ilihia Gionson, Legislative Assistant to District 3 Peter Sur and retired newspaper and radio reporter Chris Loos.

Applications must be postmarked by Monday, April 2, 2018, and announcement of winners will be at the BIPC Annual Scholarship dinner to be held in May.

Applications are available at the BIPC website. For more information email: scholarships@bigislandpressclub.org or call BIPC Treasurer, Robert Duerr (808) 937-9104.

Founded in 1967, the BIPC is the state’s oldest and most active media organization in the state of Hawai‘i.

BIPC also announces its annual the Lava Tube and the Torch of Light awards annually on Freedom of Information Day, March 16, the birthday of James Madison. For further information visit the Big Island Press Club website.

LETTER: Police Citations on Day of False Alarm

For anyone who received a cell phone citation on the day of the false ballistic missile attack.

What followed after 8:07 a.m. on January 13, 2018, was a day full of fear, anxiety, and confusion. Our office has become aware that many drivers were cited that morning during a Hawaii Police Department program during the minutes after the false alarm notification. It is my belief that that minutes after the false alarm was not the appropriate time to resume strict enforcement of a program that issues harsh and expensive $297 fines for everyone using a mobile device while driving.

While many residents were ticketed for driving while using a cellphone in Hilo, I would like to assist all drivers who were cited for trying get accurate information and communicating with loved ones during the anxiety laden morning:

For those drivers cited who can not afford a $297 fine:

1. I would recommend every driver cited to write to the Traffic Court, explaining the circumstances of this traffic violation citation and asking for your citation to be dismissed.
2. If you don’t get a communication in response, or your request is denied, I would recommend asking for a court appearance first, before paying any fine.
3. If you would like, I am willing to provide you a letter to read into the Court record or hand to the Traffic Court Judge explaining the extraordinary situation that morning and asking for leniency, this one time. To get the letter, I would need a photocopy of your citation for verification. It can be sent to my office at 25 Aupuni St. Hilo, 96720. I could even photocopy it for you, at my office.
4. You can ask for community service in lieu of a monetary fine. There are alot of needy nonprofit organizations out there that can use skilled volunteers.
5. If enough drivers request it, I would be willing to schedule a meeting with Police Chief Paul Ferreira on this matter. Again, I would need your written permission and a copy of your violation notice, for reference.

Councilmember Jen Ruggles

Letters, commentaries and opinion pieces are not edited by Big Island Now.

Shan Tsutsui to Resign as Lieutenant Governor

Shan S. Tsutsui announces his resignation as Lieutenant Governor, effective Jan. 31, 2018. Photo Courtesy

Shan S. Tsutsui announces his resignation as Lieutenant Governor, effective Jan. 31, 2018. He will be returning to Maui and will be joining Strategies 360, a public affairs, strategic communications and research firm with offices in Hawaii, 11 other Western states and Washington D.C as a Senior Vice-President.

His statement follows:

“With a grateful, yet heavy heart I am announcing today that I will be resigning as the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Hawaiʻi, effective January 31, 2018. Over the past 15 years, it has been my honor and privilege to have served the people of Hawaiʻi, first as a State Senator from Maui and Senate President, and currently as your Lieutenant Governor. Throughout that time, I have always been mindful of the tremendous responsibility that comes with public office. I have greatly appreciated the trust and confidence that was bestowed upon me and have done my best to build a better Hawaiʻi through collaboration and hard work, while honoring our shared core values of honesty, integrity and respect.

As Senate President, I was fortunate to draw upon my many years in the Senate and the relationships that I had established to exhibit a collaborative style of leadership, and I did my best to ensure that all Senators were respected and heard. As your Lieutenant Governor, I have continued to work cooperatively with leaders in the public and private sectors, as well as members of the public, with that same level of respect and attention. During this time, I am proud to have established the Resources for Enrichment, Athletics, Culture and Health (R.E.A.C.H.) initiative to support after-school programs for middle and intermediate public school students. As a father, I was especially concerned with ensuring that middle school students engage in positive activities and relationships during hours when many are left unsupervised because their parents are working. Since 2013, R.E.A.C.H. has invested approximately $2.75M in more than 40 public middle and intermediate schools, including charter schools, statewide, reaching thousands of students. Funds have helped to provide robotics programs; hula, ukulele, music and other dance lessons; basketball, soccer, wrestling and other sports; cooking, fishing, art, and hydroponics; and many other clubs and programs. Participating students have shown improved attendance, attitude, behavior and even grades.

Additionally, I was excited to have taken the reigns of the Farm to School Initiative, which we have developed into the “‘Aina Pono: Hawai‘i’s Farm to Cafeteria Initiative,” to increase the purchase and consumption of local food in our school cafeterias. With an enthusiastic team of advisors and ‘doers,’ along with support from the Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, private partners such as The Kohala Center, and many other generous donors, a burgeoning pilot project was launched to infuse local foods and flavors into our school menus, while providing healthier options for our keiki. As the project continues to grow and expand throughout the State, the effects will have a lasting impact on our keiki, the agriculture industry, and the state’s procurement processes.

Throughout my time in office, it has been an absolute pleasure to have had the opportunity to meet so many talented and inspiring individuals. I have witnessed firsthand the many hardworking families who fight traffic in their daily commutes, while holding down multiple jobs to provide a better life for their keiki; the bright, dedicated students who not only excel in Hawaiʻi but can also compete with their counterparts nationally; and the small businesses and farms using innovative and entrepreneurial ideas to revitalize family businesses. You have all inspired me and helped to make me a better person and leader. I will cherish these experiences and lessons and carry them with me throughout my life.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the people of Hawaiʻi for the opportunity to have served you all these years. Truly, I have been blessed with the support of so many individuals, family and friends. I especially thank my incredible family—my wife, children, parents and extended ohana for their tremendous love, support and many sacrifices over the years. I would like to thank Governor Ige for the privilege of serving in his Administration. To Neil and Nancy, Lyndelle and I thank you for your friendship and kindness and the love you have shared with our daughters. I also send my aloha to my former colleagues in the Legislature and the tens of thousands of public employees throughout the State for their hard work and dedication to the people of Hawaiʻi. Finally, a big mahalo to my staff and security for your unwavering devotion and enduring commitment to the office and to helping me best serve the people of the State. Your hard work did not go unnoticed, and I will be forever grateful to each of you.

In his remarks commemorating the 75th Pearl Harbor anniversary, President Barack Obama noted, ‘we cannot choose the history that we inherit. But we can choose what lessons to draw from it, and use those lessons to chart our own futures.’ Accordingly, it’s my hope that we will continue to acknowledge the rich history of our State, and remain grateful for the contributions and sacrifices of generations past; that we will explore new ways to invest in our residents, businesses, and communities to make them more sustainable, competitive, and economically robust. And as I leave public service, I look forward to continuing to be a part of Hawaiʻi’s future and helping to forge a new path that honors our shared beliefs and my continued commitment to improving the lives of the people of Hawaiʻi.”

Strategies 360 is a Seattle-based company with offices in 12 Western states and Washington, D.C. The company offers targeted public affairs, strategic communications and research services to position its clients for success.

Gov. David Y. Ige made the following statement on the resignation of Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui:

“It is with a mixture of sadness and gratitude that I learned of Shan’s decision to step down from his position as lieutenant governor. He has dedicated the last 15 years to serving the people of Hawai‘i. As lieutenant governor he has worked tirelessly on Aloha Stadium and the Farm to School Initiative in our effort to boost local food production in our state. I also applaud Shan’s effort to support after-school programs in our public schools. I wish Shan and his family the very best always.”