Hawaii lawyers are allowed to assist people who are applying for licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana, according to a rule change approved by the Hawaii Supreme Court.

The court issued an order Tuesday that says attorneys “may counsel or assist a client regarding conduct expressly permitted by Hawaii law, provided that the lawyer counsels the client about the legal consequences, under other applicable law, of the client’s proposed course of conduct.”

The order comes as a relief to entrepreneurs who have been hoping to get involved in the budding industry but were stymied by a Hawaii Supreme Court Disciplinary Board decision warning attorneys against providing legal services to clients applying for licenses.

Patients can currently grow their own medical marijuana, but a new law seeks to make it easier for patients to get medicine by legalizing dispensaries.
Patients can currently grow their own medical marijuana in Hawaii, but a new law that will legalize dispensaries by next summer may make it easier for them to get medicine. Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

The Supreme Court received 90 comments on the proposed rule change, with 70 in support, according to a spokeswoman for the state Judiciary.

“This is an elegant solution to a potentially difficult problem,” attorney Paul Alston said of the rule change. His firm Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing is representing a client applying for a license.

Former Attorney General David Louie, who sent a letter to the justices urging them to adopt the proposed rule, said Tuesday’s order provides the relief he was seeking.

“It takes care of the problem and it’s in line with what other states have done on this,” he said. The Illinois Supreme Court adopted a similar rule this week.

State Rep. Della Au Belatti said the order provides needed clarity not only to attorneys but also their clients.

“It provides clarity to folks who are interacting with the industry to know that they can get qualified legal services here in the state of Hawaii from attorneys who really understand the law in Hawaii,” she said.

Belatti is coordinating an all-day legal education conference on the state’s dispensary law that will take place at the Hawaii Convention Center on Friday.

The state Department of Health is also expected to provide an update on its progress on drafting rules for the dispensary program at an informational briefing at the Hawaii State Capitol at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Room 325.

The islands legalized medical marijuana 15 years ago, but the state only accepted medical cannabis production centers and dispensaries in July.

Under the new law, businesses can apply for the eight statewide licenses that will be available in January to grow and sell cannabis at up to two dispensaries each. They could be up and running as early as July 2016.

Read the text of the rule change below:

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