The second annual Pakalolo for the People event recently took place on March 12 in the town of Papaikou, on Hawaii’s Big Island. Hosted by Big Island Grown, the cannabis-themed event made it clear that the canna-tides are changing in Hawaii.
Big Island Grown (BIG) received their dispensary license in 2018 and is one of two medical cannabis dispensaries operating on the Big Island. BIG started Pakalolo for the People (P4TP) in 2021 as a way to hear all of the different voices within the Hawaii cannabis community, and find common ground. With the creation of an inclusive, and well thought out plan for adult-use cannabis in Hawaii, they hope to make real change by providing a unified voice to the legislature that encompasses patient and cannabis advocates, dispensary operators and legacy farmers, among others.
“Pakalolo for the People was a team driven vision,” said Jaclyn Moore, CEO of Big Island Grown. “Multiple team members of the Big Island Grown ohana helped create the vision and mission. It is truly a people’s movement. Big Island Grown is participating to the extent of helping nurture the campaign in its infancy.”
“Pakalolo” is the Hawaiian word for “cannabis,” or as it translates, “crazy smoke.” “Paka” means “smoke” and “lolo” means “crazy.” BIG’s ethos is centered around a dedication to helping shape a sustainable and thriving future for cannabis in Hawaii. Hence, Pakalolo for the People was born.
Stepping on site at Pakalolo for the People (which kicked off at precisely 4:20pm), the intense beauty of the venue overwhelms the senses. It was held at a private residence with massive cliffs dropping down and dramatically meeting the ocean’s crashing waves. The warm island breeze and sweet floral smells danced and mingled, creating a surreal, heavenly setting for the cannabis-themed gathering.
The event décor was clean, elegant and simple, consistent with Big Island Grown’s dispensary aesthetic and packaging. Tables were lined with white linens featuring giant monstera leaves. Local brews were cracking, and a catered buffet was quickly filling up.
The vibe was casual, yet intentional. Attendees greeted old friends with warm embraces and smiled while discussing last year’s endeavors in the Hawaiian cannabis industry.
In contrast to the more formal format of the 2021 event with panel discussions and masks, people were able to enjoy a mask-free setting and openly chat about the needs and goals of the current medical marijuana program and the future of adult-use cannabis. Laughs were shared around the tables and into the evening while everyone indulged in the delicious food, listened to the live DJ music, and enjoyed the pakalolo from BIG.
“There were people there with very different points of view regarding where the industry should be, and the direction it should go,” said Drew Daniels, BIG’s director of marketing. “After a few hours of conversation, I think we all came to the conclusion that we are more alike than different, and by uniting our voices, we can be a powerful force.”
Meeting the Changemakers of Hawaii Cannabis
Approximately 100 people attended this year’s P4TP event, including legacy farmers, lawmakers, indigenous cultural standouts, dispensary licenses, cannabis activists and patients. Also in attendance were some of Hawaii’s cannabis industry legends, including Monica Delgado, Hawaii NORML head. When it comes to the future of adult-use cannabis in Hawaii, she says it will come, but the state is in no hurry.
“After seeing several states move towards adult-use, it’s been interesting to watch markets thrive and fail. Although it is a big hassle for businessmen and women across the nation, there are many lessons to learn,” Delgado says. “Hawaii has always taken its time to move forward. Some may think we’re moving backwards at times. This is neither good or bad…it just is here. Cannabis is still federally illegal, and that causes caution in all of our politicians’ decisions. I believe education of the plant should be ongoing to assist all parties involved in trying to shape its future. Adult use will come to Hawai’i, when? it is unknown.
Me Fuimaono-Poe, who opened the Malie Cannabis Clinic, Hawaii’s first nurse-led cannabis clinic in 2016, was also in attendance.
The clinic’s services include certifications and dosing education, as well as being able to dose for specific conditions and make recommendations based on what the dispensary has. The clinic also focuses on the benefits of different terpenes and cannabinoids, helping patients discover what may work best for them.
“I teach your aunties how to smoke weed, basically—all day, every day,” Fuimaono-Poe said, giggling.
Since opening in 2016, Fuimaono-Poe says her clinic has certified more than 12,000 people in the state. They participate in educational events, but since they’ve been forced to close temporarily due to the global pandemic’s restrictions, they shifted to publishing educational content on the social media platform, TikTok. With an audience of nearly 80,000 followers, the @malieclinic TikTok account has exploded in popularity since 2020.
“I feel that we must do adult use very differently here, because other states, like California, have messed it up,” Fuimaono-Poe says when discussing the future of cannabis in Hawaii.
“When Hawaii does adult-use, we must approach it first through a social equity lens,” she continued. “I’m on the board of the Association for Cannabis Health Equity and Medicine (ACHEM), and they’re about health equity in everything—the economy, environment and licensing. But when I think about health and social equity, it commences with ending testing for probation. In Hawaii, one of the biggest reasons why people stay on probation is because they test positive for cannabis. We have some of the longest probation extensions in the US, for that reason.”
Fuimaono-Poe adds that when Hawaii does move to adult-use, the state’s legistlation will hopefully include automatic expungement, prohibiting THC testing for appointments, or as a condition for probation.
“This legislative work is where my passion is because no one deserves to have their probation extended or be reincarcerated for testing positive for THC in a state where its legal,” she said. “Hawaii is incredibly conservative and a bit slower than the rest of the US, but I’d rather be slow and not have adult use rather than move fast and do it wrong.”
Carefully Moving Forward
As Fuimaono-Poe concluded her thoughts on the subject, she introduces me her close friend, James Anthony.
Anthony grew up in Hawaii, and moved to California, where he started Anthony Law Group in 2006. He wrote the first cannabis tax law in the US, and helped get the license for Steve DeAngelo, of Harborside. He’s also a founding director of Hood Incubator, a nonprofit promoting social justice and equity in the then burgeoning cannabis industry. Now he’s back in Hawaii working on policy changes for the state.
James’ view on adult-use cannabis in Hawaii seems to be consistent with what Fuimaono-Poe has been saying. He also believes that social equity is necessary for a successful program in Hawaii.
“In a place such as Hawaii, or even San Diego County, which is just starting to do their regulations, people need social equity up front,” Anthony said. “You could require that your adult-use businesses operate as D-corporations, those triple bottom-line things, so they’re not nonprofits. They give return on investment to the shareholders. But they’re also not straight-for-profits because straight-for-profits can only do that, they’re legally required to maximize profit. Why not have 800 licensees and let the market decide? Why should the government pick the winners and losers? This is America, let the customers decide.”
Next up? Randy Gonce, the Executive Director of the Hawaii Cannabis Industry Association (HICIA). “I do policy work, write bills, strategy,” Gonce says. “We’re working on fixing the current medical program and now also legalization efforts. All the while, also still working on destigmatizing cannabis and its use.”
When asked about a winnable goal for 2022, he doesn’t hesitate and says, “To increase patient access. HICIA has a bill, House bill 2260, that’s moving. It’s the only cannabis bill alive this session and it allows a few things, including the ability to wholesale between licensees, which would play a huge part in the current vertical integration program. It allows licensees to work with one another. Licensees got together and wrote that bill.”
Gonce is optimistic about the future of recreational cannabis sales in Hawaii. For the first time, a task force is coming together to focus on legalization and the impacts of what an adult-use program would have on the state.
We’re finally going to be giving this topic a good conversation at the state level,” Gonce said, speaking of the task force. “We have a governor’s race this year and there are a few candidates that are pro cannabis. If we get one of them in, which is likely, I’d say about two years until we have an adult-use program on the books. So, we’re close—closer than we’ve ever been.”