Pakalolo is the Hawaiian word for cannabis and it literally means “numbing tobacco.” The chronicled use of cannabis in the Hawaiian Islands, appearing in the Hawaiian Language Newspaper Ka Nonanona, goes as far back as the year 1842 – though cannabis use probably goes back much further. Advertisements for medical cannabis continued in Hawaiian newspapers throughout the 19th century.

The criminalization of cannabis in Hawaii came shortly after the U.S. government unilaterally laid its claim to the Hawaiian Islands and made Hawaii an “organized incorporated territory” (a fancy term for “colony” without the stigma associated with “colonization”), despite substantial, and arguably, overwhelming opposition by the Hawaiian people.

The Hawaiian Islands and its people, controversially claimed by the United States, were subjected to U.S. law. In the late 1930s, Henry J. Anslinger, commissioner of the newly minted Federal Bureau of Narcotics (within the U.S. Treasury Department), led a war against cannabis, and racism was his impetus, what with statements like “[r]eefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

Marijuana grows in a greenhouse in Washington state. Dispensaries in Hawaii will have their own indoor grow operations under the state's medical marijuana law.
Marijuana grows in a greenhouse in Washington state. Dispensaries in Hawaii will have their own indoor grow operations under the state’s medical marijuana law.

Anslinger’s greatest hits also include, “[T]here are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.” What a sweet guy. /sarcasm

The U.S. government’s war on cannabis was accompanied by — reinforced with — media support in the form of yellow journalism and anti-cannabis propaganda films like Reefer Madness, Marihuana, and Assassin of Youth. And, unfortunately, it worked.

In 1970, Congress passed The Controlled Substances Act, which listed cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance with “no currently accepted medical use in treatment” and “a lack of accepted safety for use of [cannabis] under medical supervision.” Obviously, that just isn’t the case.

Cannabis prohibition was a racist endeavor — it was practically demonized to encourage racial discrimination — and the continued prohibition of cannabis further reinforces the legacy of systematic racism in the United States. Race is still a big issue (disparate treatment) with the criminalization of cannabis and that’s in addition to the rather large mountain of misinformation on cannabis use that society has built over the past 80 or so years. That’s a whole lot of necessary deprogramming.

Let’s start with this: Cannabis has medicinal benefits.

There are a great many people out there, who can (and do) use cannabis to overcome/abate the debilitating affects of illnesses; it helps them — it saves them — from pain and suffering and it allows them a chance to reclaim their lives and regain a sense of normalcy (something many healthy people take for granted).

Even for a brief moment, this can mean the world to someone whose suffering. Who are we to deny anyone the right to life?

Regulating Medical Marijuana In Hawaii

The recently passed Act 241 (HB 321) improves upon access to medical cannabis by establishing medical marijuana dispensaries in the Hawaiian Islands. That’s great! People need access to medical treatment. Access to medical cannabis is what it’s all about.

But therein lies a problem. The law didn’t reach its potential for medical cannabis access — far from it — and instead, appears to be some mutated-compromise resulting from economic opportunism and irrational cannabis fears based on the usual misinformation.

The much-needed access to medical cannabis seems to have taken a secondary, back-burner, position behind generating revenue and perpetuating anti-cannabis scare-tactics. The law has its issues and most of those issues limit access to medical cannabis.

Act 241 allows a maximum of eight medical marijuana dispensary licenses. Each licensee can maintain up to two dispensaries under a single license. That’s a maximum of 16 dispensaries in the Hawaiian Islands. It sounds like a fair amount, but what it comes down to is eight individuals/corporations controlling the cost of medical cannabis in a market of roughly 12,500 potential buyers (which is expected to grow significantly).

Eight licenses is a sizable limitation, when considering the House Draft of HB 321 set it at “[n]ot less than twenty-six dispensary licenses.”

More medical cannabis dispensaries means a more competitive and customer-driven market. Cost is a major factor in virtually everything, which also includes medical cannabis. The price per ounce varies by market. The current U.S. Price Index for December 2015 had cannabis at roughly $313 per ounce.

It’s not unreasonable for a medical cannabis patient to consume an ounce of cannabis every two weeks. Those who don’t need to be constantly medicated can stretch an ounce over the course of a month – which at $300 per month is a sizable cost, especially for patients with low and fixed incomes. Where’s the accessibility there?

Time and time again, legislators have described Hawaii’s medical marijuana dispensary law as eliminating/minimizing patient dependency on the “black market.” However, with eight licensees controlling the cost of Hawaii’s medical marijuana dispensaries, which are themselves subjected to the high-cost requirements of operating a dispensary in Hawaii (and their prices for medical cannabis will likely reflect that), it doesn’t seem like patients will get medical cannabis at affordable prices.

It’s probably safe to say that the “black market” will be significantly more affordable than what current Hawaii medical cannabis laws will allow. Again, a lot more dispensaries would have evened the playing field significantly. The potential of over saturated medical cannabis dispensaries might not be the best thing for business/profit, but competitive low prices is great for patients — and that’s the point of medical cannabis.

It’s probably safe to say that the “black market” will be significantly more affordable than what current Hawaii medical cannabis laws will allow.

And this brings us to state Rep. Marcus Oshiro’s House Bill 1680 that would prohibit patients from growing their medical cannabis (which is currently their right under Hawaii law) and require them to purchase from state-licensed dispensaries. Just when you thought you were free from the stranglehold of over-regulation, they pull you right back in.

The affordability and accessibility of growing your own aside, there’s still a big issue concerning dispensary access for patients on Molokai and Lanai. Both islands are a part of Maui County, which is limited to two medical marijuana dispensary licenses (a maximum of four dispensaries). Molokai and Lanai have very small populations when compared to an island like Maui and from a strict-business standpoint, it’s probably not worthwhile to place a dispensary (under current high-cost requirements) on either of the two islands.

This is a major access issue for patients on Molokai and Lanai, especially so, if these patients are no longer allowed to grow their own medicine under Rep. Oshiro’s HB 1680. These patients cannot travel to a Maui dispensary for medical cannabis because state and federal law prohibit the transportation of cannabis by boat and plane. What are these patients to do? It’s forced-criminalization.

Medical cannabis laws should be about serving people in need and not another government strategy to expand its coffers. It should be about greatly improving the accessibility of medical cannabis for patients in need. It should be about saving lives.

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