In 2000, Hawaii legalized the medical use of marijuana. But for 15 years, patients had to grow their own.

So, of course, the news of upcoming marijuana dispensaries was welcomed, because this would ease access for those who had a qualifying diagnosis and prescription from their doctor.

After all, a dispensary should be a place where those who need to purchase medicine can do so, legally. This could only lead to expanded access, increased availability; it’s a positive change for everyone, right?

Not so fast. What about those who choose to keep growing their own? That would be illegal if Rep. Marcus Oshiro has his way.

Marijuana flower

Medical marijuana patients may be prohibited from growing their own medicine.

Under House Bill 1680once a dispensary is in place, personal cultivation would be illegal.

Why would the state want to prohibit citizens from doing the very activity that they have been forced to do for a decade and a half? 

According to Oshiro, this is the only way to make sure that those who operate a dispensary would not have to compete with the unregulated, untaxed private cultivation done by patients and caregivers that is currently legal. The license to operate a dispensary, the sales tax on the product, the registration of each patient, all of these actions result in more revenue for the state.

Last year Colorado made $53 million in tax revenue on recreational marijuana. Granted, in Hawaii, there is a much smaller market for medicinal marijuana, but the tax potential is clearly there.

What was once free to sick patients is now going to be bought from the state’s designated dispensaries, after the applications that cost $5,000 each have been reviewed and a lucky few have been chosen.

But what happens if a dispensary doesn’t have the type or strength of marijuana that many patients have spent years determining by their own trial and error? Would they be forced to illegally use their own formerly legal supply? What if the patient is on a fixed income and can’t afford to buy it from a dispensary? What if the dispensary is out of stock?

The number of people who will be seeking prescription authorization for medicinal marijuana use is expected to double once dispensaries open. After all, many who have not wanted to grow their own have just not sought certification to do so. Now with the availability of the product, demand may be greater than supply, and those who rely on marijuana to treat their medical conditions may be out of luck if there isn’t enough to go around.

Up until now, there have been no significant issues with the quality of the product that was home grown, and if patients have felt that they needed to change their strength or dose, they have been freely able to do so. Once it’s available in standardized forms only, how will that meet their needs?

These questions illustrate that the manner in which the state handles medical marijuana should take into account the situation that patients have been forced to contend with for the past 15 years. Those who have been given a “blue card” to legally grow up to seven plants should be allowed to continue doing so once the dispensaries are open.

Even if it’s only for a limited time.

The system of dispensing medical marijuana has never been tried in the state and people should not have their health compromised while businesses are dealing with a steep learning curve. The cost may be too much both in dollars and in health for those who have already been approved to use this medicinally.

Until we all recognize the medicinal value of marijuana, and give those with qualifying medical diagnoses the benefit of the doubt, all legislation to restrict access is just another way to punish patients for being sick.

After all, the list of qualifying medical conditions to be considered include diagnoses no one would choose to have: cancer, glaucoma, positive status for HIV/AIDS, cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, epilepsy, or severe and persistent muscle spasms, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and PTSD.

Rather than establishing another punitive system that restricts access to those it’s supposedly trying to help, the Legislature should listen to the very people who have tried for so long to follow the rules of medical marijuana use, and not treat everyone like a potential criminal out to abuse a drug and get high.

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