Pubdate: Tue, 12 Apr 2016
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald (Hilo, HI)
Copyright: 2016 Hawaii Tribune Herald
Author: Kirsten Johnson


Some Fear Dispensaries Will Limit Access and Be Cost-Prohibitive

Crippling stress, extreme pain and bad arthritis - for 72-year-old 
Subhadra Corcoran, cannabis is essentially the only fix.

The Kona resident has used the drug medicinally for decades. For the 
past 10 years, she's been a patient in Hawaii's medical marijuana program.

But later this year, when the state's first dispensaries can legally 
begin operating, Corcoran isn't planning to use them.

"I can't afford to buy pot," said Corcoran, who said she currently 
gets weed through a caregiver on the island. "I'm 72-years-old, 
disabled and living off Social Security ... if they had $10 (for an 
eighth of an ounce of marijuana), I would. If they would make it 
affordable and my insurance would cover, of course I would. But 
that's not going to happen."

Medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii since 2000, but the 
state's never established a way for patients to purchase it. 
Proponents of the up-and-coming dispensary system hope the medical 
pot shops will, for the first time, create a way to do that.

But statewide, only 16 dispensaries can open initially. Meanwhile, 
the number of registered patients in Hawaii surpassed 13,620 at the 
end of March and continues to grow each month. More than half of 
those patients resided in Hawaii County, more than any other island 
including Oahu, and yet only four dispensaries can open on the Big 
Island initially.

Marijuana also remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance not covered 
by insurance companies.

Some in the industry worry - based on what other states have 
experienced after launching dispensary programs - that high demand 
coupled with a capped number of dispensaries will lead to prices few 
can actually afford.

In New York, which approved up to 20 dispensaries through its newly 
established medical marijuana program in 2014, less than half of the 
state's more than 2,000 patients actually obtained the drug about 
three months after it began in early January, according to 
information from New York's Department of Health.

Last year in Minnesota, two months after the state launched its 
medical cannabis program, about one-fifth of roughly 500 registered 
patients had not returned to buy more medication, state data show.

"Excessive pricing, (excessive) taxation and (excessive) legislation 
all lend to feeding the black market," said Don McKay, owner of a 
Colorado Springs, Colo.-based dispensary.

In Colorado, the exact opposite happened, said McKay, who employs 10 
people at his Southern Colorado Medical Marijuana dispensary. 
Colorado has allowed dispensaries since 2010 and currently licenses 
more than 900 statewide - medical and recreational. McKay said there 
are about 126 dispensaries in his vicinity, which serve at least 
10,000 patients.

As a result, marijuana prices in Colorado have plummeted. When McKay 
opened about six years ago, he sold medical pot for about $400 an 
ounce. These days, the business "regularly has sales for $99 or $125 
an ounce," he said.

"The value of the product has dropped (well below) it's original 
value," he said. "It's a supply-and-demand thing. Excessive stores 
will tend to drive prices down, which is ultimately good for customers."

Hawaii lawmakers are mulling bills this legislative session that aim 
to help keep prices at bay. For example, Puna Democrat Sen. Russell 
Ruderman introduced a measure that would allow medical marijuana 
production centers licensed after Oct. 2017 to include secured 
greenhouses or shade houses. The Senate bill, which since has cleared 
two House readings, would allow dispensaries to grow marijuana using 
natural sunlight. Artificial grow lamps would further drive up costs 
in Hawaii, which has the highest electricity prices in the nation.

Another omnibus House bill moving through the Senate would allow 
advanced practice registered nurses to authorize patients to use 
medical marijuana. Supporters say that would make the process easier 
to access, thus encouraging more people to register for the program.

"Only about 2 percent of physicians (statewide) are participating (in 
the medical marijuana program) at this time," said Kona-based 
physician Charlie Webb, who sees at least 10 cannabis patients per 
week. "Obviously, the large majority did not. That's why it's sort of 
turned into a specialty."

The state DOH planned to announce dispensary licensee selections 
Friday (April 15). But last week, officials said the announcement 
could be delayed because of an issue with fingerprinting and 
background check requirements. Once selected, licensees can 
technically start operating July 15.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom