In August 2017, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick (CK) took a knee in protest during the pre-game national anthem. He told media after the game, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.”
His action triggered other protests and ignited a firestorm of anger, frustration and division. CK claimed NFL teams “colluded” to ban and prevent him from playing in the league for speaking out. It appears senior managers at Hawaiian Electric have blacklisted me for speaking out as well. (see CEO Connie Lau’s Team Engage in Blacklisting)
As a high school, college and professional athlete, we were barred from protesting while in uniform or representing the school or organization. I applaud demands to remove bad officers from police ranks. Believe the War on Drugs is racist and has led to militarization of police. Didn’t however support CK’s action to protest the flag while in his employer’s uniform.
Although I disagree in part with his action, certainly wouldn’t want him to lose a job or be denied future employment. We should be mature and tolerant adults. We must extend respect, aloha and kindness even when we disagree. Democracy requires compromise and empathy for one and other.
In February 2019, the HR director at Hawaiian Electric fired me due to my disability. She did not extend respect, aloha or kindness. As a former pro athlete, my body is badly broken. I’ve suffered four major reconstructive surgeries over the past few years.
As a trained public heath professional in the battle to reduce opioid addiction and overdose death, I use a more safe analgesic — medical cannabis — to manage my chronic pain. Had checked corporate policy. Seemed my medication was permitted.
To be sure, asked my assigned HR rep specifically. She told me I would “be fine.” Not surprising, as I’m an IT professional. This is designated a “non-safety sensitive” position. Never had an issue previously. Don’t drive a company vehicle, work with dangerous chemicals or operate heavy equipment. I sit at a desk in a backroom writing code.
IT Security informed me he had spoken with HR February 20th and reported I was officially hired. Told me my start date would be February 25th. I told coworkers, friends and family members. We celebrated at an expensive restaurant.
HECO’s personnel director, Shana Buco, not only terminated me on the spot February 25th, she demanded I collect my belongings and exit the building immediately. Suffering an anxiety attack, I felt so rushed and disoriented I left a $500 pair of Cole Haan dress shoes, which the company later threw away. I Couldn’t Breathe!
Director Shana claimed I had been intoxicated and impaired at work; presented a danger to coworkers, the company and general public; and engaged in illegal activity. To me, it appeared she considered me some wretched animal who was infected with COVID19. She and the company totally disgraced me in front of professional colleagues and friends.
Shamed like a subhuman leper, just one of some 30,000+ human beings — patients who use medical cannabis — who also are denied employment by Hawaiian Electric. We’re forgotten in a “grave where one is buried alive.”
Absence of Aloha in Hawaiian Electric Top Management
Let me demonstrate the discriminatory and racist nature of Hawaiian Electric policy. Monday, Oahu Transit Services announced a bus driver continued to operate his vehicle and potentially infect hundreds of riders and coworkers after he suffered COVID19 symptoms for about a week.
“There’s no excuse. He should not have been driving.”
Roger Morton, OTS President and General Manager
Roger Morton did not discipline the employee. Called the incident a “learning moment” and said he would “extend aloha” to the driver. This guy presented a clear DANGER to coworkers, the company and general public. No excuse, but the company extended aloha.
Shana Buco implemented the discriminatory corporate policies of Hawaiian Electric CEO and President Constance Hee Lau. Both have accomplished great deeds in their careers. I pleaded for months for ho’oponopono — Hawaiian tradition of ADR. CEO Connie Lau promised all employees her companies pursued ‘imi pono — to strive to be righteous. Do you see any “righteousness” in this matter?
They did not extend great love or aloha to me. I endangered no one. Was unaware my medication caused an issue. Buco and Lau didn’t consider this a “learning moment.” Just GTFOH and never come back!!!
“What matters in life is not great deeds, but great love.”
St. Therese of the Little Flower of the Child Jesus
The State of Hawai’i legalized medical cannabis in 2000. They strengthened patient protections in 2015. Although the federal government claims to prohibit the drug, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs authorizes veterans to use the medication.
The U.S. DOJ authored a policy directive in 2011 noting their “hands off” approach to states with well-regulated programs. After my termination, I interviewed both FBI and DEA agents here in Hawai’i. They consider my behavior and use of medical cannabis to be legal.
Asian Culture at Hawaiian Electric
Most of my coworkers at Hawaiian Electric were Asian. Best manager and team of my career: smart, kind, talented and gracious human beings. Don’t believe any would have fired me due to my disability and medication. One of my coworkers of Japanese heritage wrote when he learned of my dismissal:
Personally never saw any evidence of you being impaired. Quite the contrary in fact. I would say sharp, expedient, professional, techical, humble, the whole package really.
But I did notice you had a limp, so I suspected you were in pain, but you never mentioned anything, and I never bothered to ask, our conversations were always about getting things done, and you delivered in times when we had to deliver and get things done.
Marijuana is a complex issue, often misunderstood, has been known to relieve pain, and when used correctly does not impair.
Executives and senior managers at this Asian-dominated company clearly hold an anti-cannabis position. No state or federal law or policy requires drug testing for cannabis or terminating a non-safety sensitive employee for medical use outside of work during off-hours.
Writing in The Japan Times, Jon Mitchell explained, “Japanese people have a negative view of cannabis but I want them to understand the truth and I want to protect its history.”
Mitchell points out cannabis has been at the heart of Japanese culture for thousands of years. They took advantage of medicinal benefits of cannabis, which had long been an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Cannabis-based cures were available from Japanese drug stores to treat insomnia and relieve pain in the early 20th century.
Following the country’s defeat in 1945, U.S. authorities migrated American attitudes about cannabis to Japan. The federal government essentially outlawed cannabis in 1937 and conspired to ban it in Japan. In July 1948, under U.S. occupation, Japan passed the Cannabis Control Act — which remains as the basis of anti-cannabis policy today.
“In the same way that U.S. authorities discouraged kendo and judo, the 1948 Cannabis Control Act was a way to undermine militarism in Japan. The wartime cannabis industry had been so dominated by the military that the Cannabis Control Act was designed to strip away its power.”
Some claim the U.S. blocked cannabis in Japan to encourage sale of U.S. over-the-counter amphetamines. Other experts believe the ban was instigated by U.S. petrochemical interests to shut down the Japanese cannabis fiber industry and open markets to man-made materials such as polyester and nylon.
Implicit Bias and Institutional Racism of Marijuana
The term “marijuana” is a racist label for cannabis. Some call it weed, others pot, here in Hawai’i it’s referred to affectionately as pakalolo. Those who say “marijuana” continue Implicit Bias and Institutional Racism in America. The label “marihuana” or “marijuana” was created by a racist White man in the 1930s to demonize Black and Brown human beings.
HECO’s HR director appears to know little about cannabis. The company required a simple urine screen. The test doesn’t measure intoxication or impairment. She can’t claim I was a danger to anyone. This is slander. Further, my behavior was not illegal. Her disparaging comments were ignorant, dehumanizing and highly unethical.
Yet when I wrote to my manager about Shana, I didn’t focus on her slander or the cruel treatment I received. I sought aloha ways to speak about her. I hoped to build bridges, not destroy reputations and careers. Wanted to direct her toward her better angels, as local boy President Obama asked of us in times of national frustration. He understands the power of aloha.
We spoke for over an hour. As always, she was kind, professional and gracious. Thank you, Shana!
I realize this situation is frustrating to all of us. We wanted and hoped to continue working together. The events of February 25th, the day of the untimely termination, was confusing and difficult for all of us. As I mentioned, I was shocked and blindsided. I had no knowledge my pain medication created a problem for HECO.
Now I keep losing jobs whenever I apply. Do well on initial steps, but after they check my employment history, get turned down or they simply do not return my calls. Hawaiian Electric won’t allow my manager or coworkers to speak directly on my behalf. They require all inquiries go to the HR director. It’s a small island and something’s rotten in Paradise. Seems I’m blackballed or blacklisted for speaking out.
Implicit Bias and Institutional Racism in Words
Fascinating, isn’t it? Think about the words, blackballed or blacklisted. Malcolm X discussed the Implicit Bias and Institutional Racism of such words in the 1960s. Good guys wear white hats; bad guys wear black ones. If people engage in illegal trade of goods, we refer to this as the blackmarket.
“So when I took the test … it was stunning for me to discover that my hands were literally frozen when I had to associate black with good. It’s like I couldn’t find the key on the keyboard, and doing the other version, the white-good, black-bad version was trivial.”
Mahzarin Banjai, Project Implicit
Still after 50-60 years of seeking to WAKE UP our country, here we are today. As a culture, we commonly whitelist emails we wish to receive:
We blacklist email addresses we consider bad and wish to block. This is how Implicit Bias and Institutional Racism works. Without even thinking, we further pernicious stereotypes that impact the way we think about and treat each other.
Cannabis is Bad. Alcohol is Good.
Works similarly with recreational drugs. The nation experimented with alcohol prohibition for thirteen years between 1920 and 1933. Disaster! Turned our communities into gangster war zones with unacceptable levels of violence. Prohibition didn’t work, as more alcohol continued to flow. The majority White culture demanded alcohol.
Cannabis prohibition began shortly after alcohol was legalized in various forms, but the War on Drugs officially launched in 1970 when racist President Nixon scheduled “marijuana” in the most restrictive classification of the Controlled Substances Act.
NOTE: Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, marijuana) is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA, even though some U.S. states have legalized marijuana for personal, recreational use or for medical use.
Even today, the perception continues that if Black men smoke marijuana, they become violent and rape White women. Black and White folks still demand we get “tough on drugs,” while drinking a six-pack of beer, enjoying wine tastings or downing a dozen shots of tequila.
There are some 88,000 alcohol-related deaths each year, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Comparatively, some 300 Black Americans are killed by police each year. Over 6,000 Black Americans are murdered annually. If Black or White lives really mattered, we would focus more on alcohol abuse.
Our nation has whitelisted alcohol and blacklisted cannabis. Think about it. Had I used opioids for pain management, which kill some 50,000 Americans annually, CEO and President Connie Lau and HR director Shana Buco would not have fired me.
Under the racist corporate governance of CEO and President Connie, the company even encourages, permits and approves of drinking alcoholic beverages at functions or events sponsored on property by “respective Company Presidents.” There have been ZERO recorded cannabis ODs historically. Evidence-based research suggests cannabis is less addictive than opioids or alcohol.
In two recent studies (2017, 2019), the U.S. Department of Transportation equated the “intoxication and impairment” of “stoned” drivers using cannabis to that of a driver with a 0.05 BAC. The legal limit of intoxication across most America for alcohol is 0.08 BAC. In road tests, stoned drivers swerved slightly when driving, but did not cross the centerline. Drivers on alcohol crossed centerlines.
I’m a long-time supporter of MADD. Don’t believe anyone should operate a vehicle when impaired on alcohol, cannabis or any medication. Don’t believe people should text or look at their phones when driving either. All dangerous and highly-irresponsible activities.
Taking away a person’s employment and destroying their professional reputation for using a legal pain medication shown to be safer than opioids and other drugs is not only dangerous and highly-irresponsible, it is racist.
Hawaiian Electric CEO and President Connie Lau and HR director Shana Buco, please STOP blacklisting human beings and engaging in Institutional Racism. This incident should have been a “learning moment” for all and you easily could have “extended aloha” to this employee who loved his manager, team and job so dearly.
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Ko’olau of Kaua’i. I am the Defiant One
“I Believe We Can”