Hawaii Expands Access to Patients, Allows Nurses to Certify for MMJ
The state famed for Pakalolo Gold and Maui Waui is leading the way with new legislation that expands patients’ rights to cannabis access and also allows registered nurses to certify new patients. Updating a bill passed in 2015, last week Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed into law HB 2707, a new omnibus bill aimed at refining the regulations surrounding medical marijuana administration for dispensaries and caregivers.
While Hawaiian lawmakers made medical marijuana legal back in 2000, the system long suffered from sizable deficits with regards to patients obtaining medicine. Previous to HB 2707, typical access meant patients had to grow cannabis themselves or acquire it from caregivers—a difficult task considering that, as West Hawaii Today reports, “90 percent of the state’s medical marijuana certifications were recommended by just 10 doctors.” The new bill, a major leap forward for patients, no longer relies on doctors who are reticent to certify medical marijuana patients for fear of reprisal from federal bodies.
“It’s high time that this bill came into effect,” Wailua Brandman, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, told the Cannabist. “I have patients that have been using marijuana, not legally, because they don’t have the diagnosis yet… but the medication is working for them, and they keep asking me, can they get a card?”
Maui resident Peter Sebayo echoes that sentiment. He suffers from a chronic gastric illness and controls his symptoms using cannabis, and is relieved to see the recent changes to the law: “I’m happy to say that I don’t have to hide anymore and piece together medicine from sketchy places,” he says, adding that there was a period in his life where he took heavy prescription meds, including a steroid that completely wreaked havoc on his system. Sebayo says he’s pleased that he’ll be free to treat his symptoms solely with cannabis and “not worry for days or weeks wondering where future medicine will come from.”
The new law permits dispensaries to open shop starting July 15, but many are not prepared to launch, hampered by the fact that licenses were just awarded in April. A mere eight licenses were given for the entire state. Holders include Hawaiian banana farmer Richard Ha and Waimea attorney Shelby Floyd.
The move to allow registered nurses to certify new patients offers prospective patients more options for medication and also lifts a previous impediment that required patients and caregivers who enter dispensaries to undergo background checks.
With a look toward cost savings, beginning in 2017, the bill will allow dispensaries to cultivate in buildings with transparent or translucent roofs to cut electricity costs, which should lower cannabis prices for patients. Dispensaries will also be permitted to claim state business tax credit write-offs, again with an aim to keep prices reasonable for customers.
HB 2707 further creates a “legislative oversight working group” to develop legislation to continue improving the dispensary system and will be co-developed by state lawmakers, industry advocates, medical personnel, patients and representatives from law enforcement. It also authorizes the University of Hawaii to conduct marijuana-related testing and research.
Some notable blind spots of the bill include prohibition of edible-marijuana products and pre-rolled joints. However, on the whole, patients like Sebayo agree that the new legislation is “a big step in the right direction.”
“I’m stoked that Hawaii is finally a place where we can openly utilize this plant,” he says. “This is a game changer for a lot of sick people.”
Have you sampled cannabis in Hawaii? Do medical patients deserve more access?