A bill that would establish medical marijuana dispensaries and production centers in Hawaii passed through the House committees on Judiciary and Health on Tuesday afternoon.

House Bill 321 is Hawaii’s first significant attempt to address access to medical marijuana since the state legalized it in 2000.

Currently, medical marijuana patients must rely on their own gardening skills or those of a primary caregiver to grow their own plants. If patients don’t have the physical or financial means to do so, their only other way to fill their prescriptions is buying their medication illegally and risking prosecution.

“It took a lot of effort,” House Health Committee Chair Della Au Belatti said of legislators’ work on the bill. She said they received testimony from hundreds of people that lawmakers tried to take into consideration when amending the bill, which now moves on to the House Finance Committee.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

House Health Committee Chair Della Au Belatti listens to testimony regarding medical marijuana during a Feb. 7 hearing.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Correction: An earlier version of this report stated that the bill would go next to the full House.

“A means of improving access to marijuana for medical use for registered patients in Hawaii is long overdue,” Dr. Clifton Otto said in written testimony.

HB 321 would establish dispensary systems and production centers across the state. If the bill passes through the rest of the legislative process, production centers could receive licenses starting in July 2016, and dispensaries could become licensed in January 2017. There would be approximately one dispensary  for 500 patients, which the Department of Health will review every year. The Department of Health would give licenses to 26 dispensaries and 30 production centers.

Businesses would have to pay an initial $20,000 fee to the DOH to become a licensed dispensary, and another $30,000 every year after that to renew their licenses. The funds would go to a medical marijuana registry and a special fund for regulation.

Dispensaries and production centers would be required to take security precautions, like installing alarms systems and security cameras. They would not be able to operate within 750 feet of schools, playgrounds or public housing complexes.

“A means of improving access to marijuana for medical use for registered patients in Hawaii is long overdue.” — Dr. Clifton Otto

Another section of the bill would require public education on medical marijuana, as well as labeling requirements. The bill would require packaging to be child-resistant and opaque, and list the contents and potency of the product.

The Department of Health has estimated that more than 13,000 people qualify for medical marijuana in Hawaii. Currently, patients can be prescribed medical marijuana if they have a debilitating condition such as severe pain or nausea, HIV/AIDS or multiple sclerosis.

During the bill’s first hearing Feb. 7, lawmakers seemed sympathetic toward the majority of people who testified in support of medical marijuana dispensaries. Many said medical marijuana had helped their loved ones, or themselves, to cope with debilitating illnesses like seizures or cancer. Some said it had given them valuable time with family members didn’t have long to live.

The bill was opposed by representatives of law enforcement, the Honolulu prosecutor’s office, anti-drug advocates, and a few churches and concerned parents.

Several members of the law enforcement community were concerned that medical marijuana would fall into the hands of children. Meanwhile, anti-drug advocates questioned whether medical marijuana should ever be allowed, even though it was legalized 15 years ago.

Lawmakers amended the bill to require that medical marijuana patients disclose previous dispensary purchases if purchasing medical marijuana at different dispensaries. If patients fail to do so upon request, they could face a petty misdemeanor charge.

Another amendment would require medical marijuana products to display their equivalent dry weight on the labeling. Lawmakers hope this will help patients determine how much they need, regardless of the form. Patients would be able to obtain no more than four ounces over 15 days.

Lawmakers also amended the bill to allow production centers to receive licenses starting July 1, 2016. Dispensaries could begin operating Jan. 1, 2017.

About the Author