A decade and a half ago, Hawaii became one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana.

Fifteen years later, the state has still not established a legal procedure for about 13,000 eligible people to obtain cannabis, other than growing their own if they are physically and financially able.

While other states have established dispensary systems, legislators here have dithered — thanks in part to law enforcement officials who opposed the law when it was passed in 2000 and have done what they could to prevent it from taking full effect.

When it comes to medical marijuana, Hawaii has devolved from a compassionate pioneer into a do-nothing observer.

The Hawaii Medical Marijuana Dispensary Task Force meets at the Hawaii State Capitol on September 9, 2014.

A Hawaii Medical Marijuana Dispensary Task Force meeting at the Capitol last September. The panel is recommending establishment of dispensaries that could start operating in 2017 — 17 years after the Legislature approved the use of medical marijuana.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

It’s a case of legislative malpractice that victimizes people who suffer from cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures and persistent muscle spasms — maladies legally treatable with marijuana in Hawaii, if the medicine were only available.

They shouldn’t be forced to commit a crime if they can’t grow their own.

Long overdue action may finally be taken during the legislative session that begins Wednesday. The Medical Marijuana Dispensary Task Force is recommending that laws be passed to allow dispensaries to actually start operating — in July 2017.

That’s better than the nothingness of the last 15 years, but at this point Hawaii is far behind the times. Legislators could and should do more.

Namely, legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults, or send a ballot measure to voters and let them decide if it’s time for Hawaii to join the growing number of states that are putting an end to America’s modern-day prohibition.

In Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, as well as the District of Columbia, voters have accepted the reality that a significant number of otherwise law-abiding citizens already ingest the stuff and will continue to do so.

They’ve chosen to establish safe distribution methods and strike a blow against organized crime.

They’ve also chosen to increase tax revenues rather than expend precious public money enforcing dubious laws.

In a 2012 study, David Nixon, an associate professor of public policy at UH Manoa, estimated that legalizing marijuana could save Hawaii $3 million a year in law enforcement and judicial costs and generate $11.3 million a year in new taxes.

This isn’t a call for increased use of marijuana. Indeed, a portion of the revenue from taxing its distribution and sale should be dedicated to research and education, including campaigns to discourage its use by minors and driving under its influence.

Frankly, prohibition creates an unnecessary expense that the majority of the state’s voters apparently don’t support.

The Washington Post reported last month that teen usage hasn’t gone up in the states that have legalized medical marijuana.

“In 2014, a year when marijuana was all over the news and national attitudes toward the drug are relaxing, teen use actually trended downward,” the Post reported.

There should be reasonable limits on the amount of marijuana one can possess, and restrictions on the packaging of edible cannibis so that it won’t be mistaken for candy.

Adults who like the effects of marijuana already use it, legal or not. Some do so in moderation, some to excess. Kind of like alcohol, but with generally milder ramifications. Teenagers who want to try it already have easy access to it.

Frankly, prohibition creates an unnecessary expense that the majority of the state’s voters apparently don’t support.

In a poll of 400 people commissioned a year ago by the Drug Policy Action Group, 66 percent of Hawaii voters favored outright legalization for adult use. Unfortunately, voters can’t petition for statewide ballot measures in Hawaii.

Lawmakers can place amendments on the ballot either via a two-thirds vote in both houses during one legislative session or by a simple majority vote in both chambers, held in two successive sessions.

Hawaii legislators are a cautious bunch. While they may finally take action this session on medical marijuana dispensaries, they’re likely to justify inaction on legalization by saying they want to see how it works out in other states.

On the other hand, they displayed backbone in 2013 by legalizing same-sex marriage. It’d be nice to see some more of that resolve on the issue of marijuana prohibition, or at least a willingness to let the voters decide.

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