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Medi-Pot Dispensary Bill Moves on to Full House

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Medi-Pot Dispensary Bill Moves on to Full House

Several medical marijuana and decriminalization bills remain alive in the Hawaii Legislature, but outright legalization bills didn’t make it.

MARCH 3, 2015·By MARINA RIKER

A bill that would create a statewide medical marijuana dispensary in Hawaii is moving on to the full House of Representatives.

House Bill 321 passed through the Committee on Finance on Tuesday. It calls for dispensaries and production centers on every island. A similar dispensary measure,  Senate Bill 1302, is still being considered by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and the Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection .

Dozens of people crammed into a small room at the Capitol on Friday to have their final say on HB 321, but the House committee waited to make its decision until Tuesday.

During Civil Beat’s recent Civil Cafe, Sen. Will Espero said he was “99.99 percent” sure that a dispensary system would be enacted this legislative session.

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The proposed legislation is the first major attempt to provide patients access to medical marijuana since the state legalized it in 2000. Hawaii was one of the first states to take that step, but has since fallen behind much of the rest of the country when it comes to making medical marijuana available to patients.

The state Department of Health estimates at least 13,000 people qualify for medical marijuana in Hawaii.

HB 321 was opposed by the Honolulu prosecuting attorney’s office, law enforcement and some concerned parents, who were mainly worried that medical marijuana would fall into the hands of Hawaii’s youth.

“We want to make sure that… the medicine gets to the right people,” said Maj. Jerry Inouye of the Honolulu Police Department’s Narcotics/Vice Division.

HB 321 calls for one dispensary for every 500 medical marijuana patients. They would have to be at least 750 away from schools, parks and public housing complexes. Dispensaries and production centers would have to install alarm systems, security cameras and other security precautions.

Potential dispensary owners could apply for licenses starting Jan. 1, 2017, while production centers could start operating in July 2016. The bill would also require the Department of Health to start a medical marijuana public education program.

“We’re not talking about recreational marijuana, we’re not talking about a gateway drug to cocaine,” Oahu resident Ellen Watson said. “We’re talking about a normal prescription medication.”

“This is an area for urgent patient need. Patients are forced into the black market to get their medicine.” — Rafael Kennedy, Director of the Drug Policy Forum

The bill would also allocate an unspecified amount of funding from Hawaii’s general fund to start a medical marijuana registry and regulation fund. Another unspecified amount of money would be appropriated to fill full-time positions at the Department of Health to help implement the dispensary program and medical marijuana education. All of the funding would have to be paid back to the state over the next several years.

Currently, patients have no way to legally access medical marijuana other than growing it themselves. They must rely on their own gardening skills, or that of a caregiver, to get their prescription. If they don’t have the financial or physical means to do so, the only other choice is to obtain it illegally.

“This is an area for urgent patient need,” Rafael Kennedy, Director of the Drug Policy Forum said. “Patients are forced into the black market to get their medicine.”

Right now, patients can be prescribed medical marijuana only if they have a debilitating condition such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, severe pain or glaucoma. There was a bill introduced this session that would have allowed doctors to determine which medical condition qualifies a patient to use medical marijuana, but it was deferred. Legislators say that the Department of Health plans to give physicians the ability to prescribe medical marijuana for any condition that they feel it would help.

In the last couple years, state lawmakers decided to treat medical marijuana as a health issue, rather than a public safety issue. Act 178, which took effect Jan. 1, transferred the oversight of the medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health.

A total of 29 marijuana-related bills were introduced this session. Two decriminalization and five medical-marijuana bills are still alive in the Senate and House. None of the bills that proposed outright legalization of marijuana for recreational use made it through the committee stage.