14 June 2016
The Hawaii Tribune Herald reports….
Hawaii’s medical marijuana dispensary law isn’t perfect — far from it — but it’s a start, and the state needs to begin somewhere.
That’s how lawmakers characterized the up-and-coming dispensary system Thursday evening to a fired up crowd in Pahoa, many who pointed out what they called flaws in the way the law was written.
“What we came up with, I don’t choose to defend, I think it’s extremely imperfect,” state Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, told the nearly 100 attendees, which appeared to include several patients and marijuana users. “But it’s a step, and we’re going to keep taking steps. I think five years from now, the situation is going to look dramatically different than it does now. Meanwhile, it’s like walking through mud — you can’t run, you gotta keep moving forward.”
The meeting, hosted jointly by Ruderman and House counterpart Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, served as a post-legislative wrap-up and a Q&A session about the future of Hawaii’s dispensaries. Rep. Della Au Belatti, an Oahu Democrat who helped see the original dispensary law pass, also fielded questions.
Earlier this year, the state Department of Health released the names of eight initial dispensary license selections. Those selected on the Big Island, where more patients reside than any other island in the state, were former banana farmer Richard Ha and retired Waimea attorney Shelby Floyd. Once open, those dispensaries will provide patients a way to legally buy marijuana for the first time since the drug was legalized in 2000 for medical purposes.
Dispensaries can begin operating July 15, but Au Belatti told attendees Thursday she thinks that’s unlikely.
“It’s a permissive date, it wasn’t a mandatory date,” she said. “(Licensees) are going to have to comply with building permits, they’re going to have to get their production centers up, they’re going to have to identify their retail centers and all those other things. But our hope is that by the end of the year — I’m hoping sometime in October — some of the dispensaries will be open, but we just don’t know yet.”
Au Belatti also was the brain behind the omnibus House Bill 2707 that aims to address some of the so-called loopholes in the dispensary law. For example, the bill allows for interisland transport of cannabis for testing purposes — Hawaii requires all product to be tested in a state-approved laboratory prior to being sold — and it allows for advanced practice registered nurses to register new patients.
But the bill doesn’t touch on the caregiver program, that, as it’s set to phase out in 2018, was a sticking point among patients in Thursday’s crowd.
Under the program, a licensed caregiver can grow medicine for a single patient. Those against the program say it might feed the black market — and dispensaries are soon going to fill that gap anyway. Caregiver proponents think the program is essential for patients unable to grow marijuana themselves.
“Nothing in (recent marijuana bills) affords anything for patients,” said one attendee, claiming the decision to phase out the program already has caused “an emergency situation in upper Puna” among patients turning to other drugs to medicate. “They’re still suffering and until you acknowledge that these are our bodies first … you have certain unalienable rights and no one in government can take away our rights to consume a plant … until that happens, most of us won’t be in this conversation by choice.”
HB 2707 also directs the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism to begin collecting data about the dispensary program, including the amount of marijuana grown and dispensed, the number of marijuana-related jobs available, price information and the program’s economic impact. Lawmakers said Thursday that data will be used when weighing future amendments.
“It’s not a perfect bill, believe me, I know it’s not a perfect bill,” San Buenaventura told the crowd. “However … there’s a give and a take … hopefully we can get data (from DBEDT) to say, OK, we don’t need these (marijuana) felonies (in law), maybe we can relax the caregiver program, or maybe we should create co-ops because there really isn’t this black market like law enforcement tells us.”