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State v. Woodhall

Supreme Court of Hawaii

May 31, 2013

STATE OF HAWAI'I, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee,
GEOFFREY WOODHALL, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.


Kirsha K. M. Durante for petitioner.

Linda L. Walton for respondent.




I. Introduction

A medical marijuana patient was arrested for possessing medical marijuana while passing through airport security at Kona International Airport. He was later convicted of Promoting a Detrimental Drug in the Third Degree. We are called upon to determine whether (1) the defendant presented sufficient evidence to trigger a medical marijuana affirmative defense in a stipulated fact trial, in which the parties stipulated that the defendant possessed a valid medical marijuana certificate and that the marijuana he possessed was medical marijuana; and (2), if so, whether the conflict between a statute that allows medical use of marijuana, including transportation of such marijuana, and another statute that prohibits transportation of medical marijuana through any place open to the public, creates an irreconcilable conflict that must be resolved in favor of the defendant.

Based on the analysis below, we answer both questions in the affirmative. We therefore vacate the ICA's Judgment on Appeal, and remand this case to the district court to enter a judgment of acquittal, consistent with this opinion.

II. Background

A. The Trial[1]

Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant Geoffrey Woodhall ("Woodhall") was charged by Complaint with "knowingly possess[ing] marijuana or a Schedule V substance, that is, marijuana, in any amount, thereby committing the offense of Promoting a Detrimental Drug in the Third Degree, in violation of Section 712-1249(1), Hawai'i Revised Statutes, as amended." HRS § 712-1249(1)(1993) provides, "A person commits the offense of promoting a detrimental drug in the third degree if the person knowingly possesses marijuana or any Schedule V substance in any amount. "[2]

The charge stemmed from an incident in which marijuana in a clear plastic baggie was discovered in Woodhall's possession at the Kona International Airport. Woodhall was arrested and prosecuted despite presenting a valid Medical Marijuana Registry Patient Identification Certificate.

Woodhall apparently filed a Motion to Dismiss the charge against him, as referenced in the State's Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. Based on the counter-argument raised by the State, it would appear that Woodhall argued that an ambiguity in the medical marijuana statutes required dismissal of the charge against him.

In this regard, HRS § 329-121 (2010) provides, with emphasis added:

"Medical use" means the acquisition, possession, cultivation, use, distribution, or transportation of marijuana or paraphernalia relating to the administration of marijuana to alleviate the symptoms or effects of a qualifying patient's debilitating medical condition. For the purposes of "medical use[, "] the term distribution is limited to the transfer of marijuana and paraphernalia from the primary caregiver to the qualifying patient.

It also appears that Woodhall argued that HRS § 329-121's authorization of transportation as a medical use is inconsistent with HRS § 329-122 (2010)'s prohibition on the medical use of marijuana in public places, creating an ambiguity in the medical marijuana laws. HRS § 329-122 provides, with emphasis added:

(c) The authorization for the medical use of marijuana in this section shall not apply to: ....
(2) The medical use of marijuana:
(A) In a school bus, public bus, or any moving vehicle;
(B) In the workplace of one's employment;
(C) On any school grounds;
(D) At any public park, public beach, public recreation center, recreation or youth center; or
(E) Other place open to the public. . . .

It appears that the crux of Woodhall's argument was that the only prohibited "use" of marijuana in a public place is "smoking."

The State, on the other hand, argued that "medical use" in HRS § 329-121 includes possession, transportation, and acquisition, and that the prohibition on medical use in public places under HRS § 329-122 includes possession, transportation, and acquisition. Further, the State argued that Chapter 329, Part IX generally, and the phrase "medical use" specifically, should be strictly construed, in line with the legislature's stated purpose: "[T]he legislature does not intend to legalize marijuana for other than medical purposes. The passage of this Act and the policy underlying it does not in any way diminish the legislature's strong public policy and laws against illegal drug use." See 2000 Haw. Sess. Laws Act 228, § 1 at 596. The Motion to Dismiss appears to have been denied, as the parties proceeded to a bench trial.

In a later filing, a Memorandum of Law Regarding [sic] in Support of Stipulated Facts for Bench Trial ("Memorandum"), Woodhall argued he was authorized to possess marijuana for medical use as a qualifying patient. He argued that "medical use" includes transportation; therefore, he should be acquitted of the charge because he had a medical use of marijuana affirmative defense. Second, Woodhall argued that "H.R.S. §§ 329-121 and 329-122, when read in concert are ambiguous and therefore, mak[e] it impossible for defendant to formulate the required knowing state of mind." He argued the following:

[T]ransportation for medical use is specifically allowed, however, a person [cannot] transport medical marijuana in any "place open to the public." A plain meaning reading of these two statutory provisions leads to an absurd result because it seemingly requires a qualifying patient's marijuana to somehow magically appear wherever he may be so that it may be used.

He argued that strict compliance with these ambiguous statutes produced an absurd result:

[A] qualifying patient would seemingly always be in violation of H.R.S. § 329-122 (c) (2) (E) when transporting their marijuana unless they were walking/transporting in their own home, on private property, etc. How the qualifying patient would be able to get their medical marijuana to their own home or to private property seems a near impossibility since they would arguably have to walk somewhere open to the public, such as a sidewalk, to get to their home or private property.

Woodhall further argued that the "legislative history does not indicate a specific or general intent to prohibit the medical use of marijuana in all places open to the public, " and that there is no specific legislative history explaining how HRS § 329-122(c)(2)(E)'s "open to the public" prohibition came about.

Thus, before trial, the fact that the marijuana was medical marijuana was accepted by both parties, with the only issue in dispute being a legal one: whether Woodhall could have possessed and transported the marijuana through Kona International Airport, a place open to the public.

Therefore, the parties agreed to a bench trial on stipulated facts. Their agreement and the stipulated facts follow:

Defendant GEOFFREY WOODHALL ("DEFENDANT"), by and through and on the advice of counsel SHERI S. LAWSON, Deputy Public Defender, having waived his right to trial, and the STATE OF HAWAI'I, by and through JEFFREY BURLESON, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, having agreed with the Defendant to a trial before the Court on stipulated facts, do now submit those facts which they agree upon and hereby stipulate to as follows:
1. On the [sic] March 8, 2010 in Kona, County and State of Hawaii Geoffrey Woodhall knowingly possessed marijuana measuring 2.12 grams at the Kona International Airport. The marijuana was contained in a clear plastic baggie.
2. The Kona International Airport is a place open to the public.
3. The marijuana in Defendant's possession is marijuana as defined pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes ("HRS") 329-1 and 712-1240.
4. Defendant possessed a valid medical marijuana certificate, Registration No. MJ14476, on March 8, 2010. See Exhibit "A".[3]
5. Defendant possessed the medical marijuana to transport it through airport security at the Transportation Security Administration ("TSA") checkpoint. TSA employees discovered the medical marijuana in his possession. Defendant provided his valid medical marijuana certificate to TSA officials as well as Hawaii County Police Department officer David T. Matsushima.
6. Defendant was not smoking, inhaling, or ingesting the medical marijuana.
7. The Defendant has been informed that he has the right to have a trial. The Defendant has also been informed that at trial he has the right to confront and cross[-]examine the witnesses who testify. The Defendant hereby waives his right to a trial in this matter and agrees to have the question of his guilt or innocence determined by the Court alone based upon the above facts, exhibits and subsequent submissions of counsel. The Defendant also waives his right to cross[-]examine the witnesses and agrees to submit the above facts, attached exhibits, and submissions of counsel without cross-examination.[4]

The stipulation called upon the trial court to determine the legal effect (i.e., whether medical marijuana can be transported in a place open to the public) of the two facts agreed to by the parties: (1) that Woodhall's marijuana was medical marijuana (Stipulated Facts 4, 5, and 6); and (2) that the Kona International Airport was a place "open to the public." (Stipulated Fact 2). The district court continued the matter for further argument and judgment.

At the continued hearing, the district court heard closing arguments. The State did not argue or present any evidence that the marijuana Woodhall possessed and transported did not qualify as medical marijuana. The State argued only that the prohibition on transport in public places should be strictly construed:

[W]e believe that the statute on medical marijuana regarding the permitted use of - medical marijuana is very clear. The statutes particularly define what the definition of medical use is. It includes things like possession, acquisition, distribution, and transportation, and the statutes clearly state that those activities are prohibited in places that are open to the public like an airport in this case. And I don't think there's any dispute that the Kona International Airport in this case is a place open to the public. It's a stipulated fact. And we believe the statute is restrictive, but we believe that it was done purposely and deliberately by the legislature.

Similarly, in closing arguments, the defense focused on whether transport could be prohibited at the Kona International Airport, a place open to the public, in light of the ambiguity in the interrelationship between HRS §§ 329-121 and -122. Defense counsel argued the statutes were ambiguous, "because you cannot allow for transportation under the definition of medical use but yet have no ability to transport [medical marijuana] anywhere open to the public."

In ruling, however, the court stated that the phrase "relating to the administration of marijuana to alleviate the symptoms or effects of the patient's debilitating medical condition, " found in HRS ยง 329-121's definition of "medical use" qualified "transportation." The court also opined that the term "distribution" in the phrase "medical use" was further "limited to the transfer of marijuana and paraphernalia from the primary ...

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