Hopes that Hawaii would this year become the 11th state to legalize the adult use of cannabis were dashed last week, as lawmakers in Honolulu allowed the bill to fizzle.
Half the Democrats in the state Senate signed on to the legalization measure drafted by Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English. But other leaders in the chamber raised concerns about conflicting with federal law.
The bill stalled in the Senate Health Committee and Ways & Means Committee before a March 1 deadline. It needed to clear both committees before it could go before the full Senate. When the Health Committee failed to schedule a meeting that day to consider any bills, the measure effectively died.
House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti summed up the fears of lawmakers. She told the Associated Press that while she considers legalization an eventuality, “I also think that we have enough folks who are sitting around the table who are saying ‘Let’s do it right. Let’s not just rush into things and let’s do it right.’”
Belatti said she wanted to have abuse prevention, treatment and education programs in place before legalization (a linkage that seems rooted in the discredited “gateway drug” theory). For now, Belatti said she’ll just consider decriminalizing cannabis — something Hawaii still hasn’t done. Even possession of under an ounce can land you 30 days in jail, as well as a $1,000 fine, in the Aloha State.
Hawaii’s Medicinal Cannabis Program Expands
However, the late and lamented legalization bill would have created an adult-use market by building on the dispensary system established by Hawaii’s medical marijuana program. And this, following years of agonizing delay, is growing fast.
Just four days after the legalization measure died, Hawaii’s Health Department announced that it will allow visitors to the state who are approved to purchase medical marijuana elsewhere in the U.S. to buy from local dispensaries. AP reported that an online registration system is to be established and opened to non-residents of the state. In Hawaii, with its tourism economy and large transient population, this is especially significant.
Under the new system, out-of-state patients will be able to register within 60 days before arriving in Hawaii. Registered patients are allowed to purchase up to four ounces for each 15-day period. There is a yearly $49.50 application fee.
“It’s the number one frequently asked question for each dispensary,” Pono Life Sciences CEO Michael Takano said to Hawaii News Now. “Each and every day, every dispensary gets inquiries from out-of-state patients [t]hat want access to safe, legal products. How does it work? How do I get it?”
Hawaii dispensaries sold 1,569 pounds of medical marijuana totaling $12.6 million in sales in 2018, according to state Health Department stats. Some 25,000 people are already registered in the program statewide. State health director Bruce Anderson believes this number will grow by some 10,000 with the new system, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reports.
The medical program allows registered state residents to grow up to seven plants. Visitors will not be allowed to cultivate.
Hawaii’s statehouse legalized medical marijuana in 2000, but patients had no legal place to purchase cannabis until Maui Grown Therapies opened in August 2017, followed by Aloha Green Apothecary in Honolulu.
Other retailers have opened since then, including Pono Life Maui, and Noa Botanicals and Cure Oahu in Honolulu. Last May, Green Aloha Ltd opened its Have a Heart outlet on Kauai. In August, Hawaiian Ethos, in Waimea on the Big Island, received approval to start cultivating, although it still awaits the go-ahead on retail sales. Lua Ola company, operating as Big Island Grown Dispensaries, this year opened a store in Hilo, and plans for two more, in Waimea and Kona.
That makes for a total of eight dispensaries operating statewide as of now. And for what it’s worth, the vast majority of the 20,426 registered patients say they are using cannabis for “severe pain,” according to Hawaii News Now.
TELL US, would you register as an out-of-state medical marijuana patient before a trip to Hawaii?