From the eight dispensaries approved by the Aloha State’s department of health in the last year to a once ominous home grow ban now languishing in legislative limbo, Hawaii’s cannabis patients have a handful of reasons to feel warm and fuzzy this spring.
On the “mainland,” the Hawaiian islands are largely associated with newlyweds taking honeymoon strolls on picturesque beaches, surfers hanging ten on glistening waves and tourists drinking mai tais at hotel luaus.
It’s also tied to legendary strains like Maui Wowie, and that connection between cannabis and America’s slice of the Pacific is nothing new. Hawaii was something of a marijuana mecca by the 1970s and the plant has been medically legal there since 2000.
But when the Department of Health approved eight new dispensaries last year it served as a massive political boost for safe access advocates. However, last year also included several legislative attempts to clarify, amend, and otherwise alter the existing medical system — for better or worse.
On Jan. 25, 2016, HB 1680, which would ban home growing, was referred to the committees on health, judiciary and finance, where it has remained for nearly a year.
The bill was sponsored by Oahu Democratic Representative Marcus Oshiro, who also sponsored HB 1677 and HB 2455, which respectively sought to reign in misconduct by medical cannabis doctors and create “a system of price controls.” Both bills suffered the same fate as HB 1680.
When asked if Rep. Oshiro plans to re-introduce any of his stalled bills, his office’s official response was “we’ll get back to you.” However, in late January, Rep. Oshiro reintroduced his three medical marijuana bills — now HB 661, HB 662 and HB 48 — and all three have again been referred to committee.
Carl Bergquist, the executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said on balance the state is making positive progress on safe access.
“I recall (Oshiro’s) bills from last session and note that they went nowhere,” he said. “I assume there will be similar bills this session, but there will also likely be bills to speed up the reciprocity for out-of-state patients and to not phase out caregivers.”
He added that there have been some issues, including “a delay with the ‘seed to sale’ tracking system” which would likely push back the opening of dispensaries. He said that, beyond medical marijuana, “we are committed to making a push for decriminalization this session whilst laying some foundations for a future legalization.”
James Anthony is a cannabis attorney with extensive contacts in the Hawaii medical cannabis industry. He’s also a native Hawaiian who frequently goes back home to visit.
“[I’ve] tracked the evolution of medical cannabis for over a decade, and previously been invited to address and advise the legislature on regulatory issues,” he said. “The conventional wisdom is that legislative leadership will want to see how the dispensary program goes, which should be open by the middle of this year.”
The legislature will be cautiously observing the outcome of adult-use legalization in other states like California (which has the largest market) and Nevada, which like Hawaii, is a major tourism engine. The outcomes they watch for will include the federal law enforcement response.
By the start of 2018, Hawaii will have some form of reciprocity. So at present, it seems that threats to restrict home growing have been stalled and forgotten and all is well in paradise once again.
Once reciprocity has gone into effect, Hawaii will have yet another thing to pull in tourists, including newlyweds looking for a little slice of the island high life.
TELL US, are you making plans to travel to Hawaii for Maui Wowie once medical marijuana cards are accepted from any state?