Pubdate: Sun, 12 Jun 2016
Source: West Hawaii Today (HI)
Copyright: 2016 West Hawaii Today
Author: Kirsten Johnson


Legislators Field Marijuana Questions at Meeting in Pahoa

Hawaii's medical marijuana dispensary law isn't perfect - far from it 
- - but it's a start, and the state needs to begin somewhere.

That's how lawmakers characterized the up-and-coming dispensary 
system Thursday evening to a fired up crowd in Pahoa, many who 
pointed out what they called flaws in the way the law was written.

"What we came up with, I don't choose to defend, I think it's 
extremely imperfect," state Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, told the 
nearly 100 attendees, which appeared to include several patients and 
marijuana users. "But it's a step, and we're going to keep taking 
steps. I think five years from now, the situation is going to look 
dramatically different than it does now. Meanwhile, it's like walking 
through mud - you can't run, you gotta keep moving forward."

The meeting, hosted jointly by Ruderman and House counterpart Rep. 
Joy San Buenaventura, served as a post-legislative wrap-up and a Q&A 
session about the future of Hawaii's dispensaries. Rep. Della Au 
Belatti, an Oahu Democrat who helped see the original dispensary law 
pass, also fielded questions.

Earlier this year, the state Department of Health released the names 
of eight initial dispensary license selections. Those selected on the 
Big Island, where more patients reside than any other island in the 
state, were former banana farmer Richard Ha and retired Waimea 
attorney Shelby Floyd. Once open, those dispensaries will provide 
patients a way to legally buy marijuana for the first time since the 
drug was legalized in 2000 for medical purposes.

Dispensaries can begin operating July 15, but Au Belatti told 
attendees Thursday she thinks that's unlikely.

"It's a permissive date, it wasn't a mandatory date," she said. 
"(Licensees) are going to have to comply with building permits, 
they're going to have to get their production centers up, they're 
going to have to identify their retail centers and all those other 
things. But our hope is that by the end of the year - I'm hoping 
sometime in October - some of the dispensaries will be open, but we 
just don't know yet."

Au Belatti also was the brain behind the omnibus House Bill 2707 that 
aims to address some of the so-called loopholes in the dispensary 
law. For example, the bill allows for interisland transport of 
cannabis for testing purposes - Hawaii requires all product to be 
tested in a state-approved laboratory prior to being sold - and it 
allows for advanced practice registered nurses to register new patients.

But the bill doesn't touch on the caregiver program, that, as it's 
set to phase out in 2018, was a sticking point among patients in 
Thursday's crowd.

Under the program, a licensed caregiver can grow medicine for a 
single patient. Those against the program say it might feed the black 
market - and dispensaries are soon going to fill that gap anyway. 
Caregiver proponents think the program is essential for patients 
unable to grow marijuana themselves.

"Nothing in (recent marijuana bills) affords anything for patients," 
said one attendee, claiming the decision to phase out the program 
already has caused "an emergency situation in upper Puna" among 
patients turning to other drugs to medicate. "They're still suffering 
and until you acknowledge that these are our bodies first ... you 
have certain unalienable rights and no one in government can take 
away our rights to consume a plant ... until that happens, most of us 
won't be in this conversation by choice."

HB 2707 also directs the state Department of Business, Economic 
Development and Tourism to begin collecting data about the dispensary 
program, including the amount of marijuana grown and dispensed, the 
number of marijuana-related jobs available, price information and the 
program's economic impact. Lawmakers said Thursday that data will be 
used when weighing future amendments.

"It's not a perfect bill, believe me, I know it's not a perfect 
bill," San Buenaventura told the crowd. "However ... there's a give 
and a take ... hopefully we can get data ( from DBEDT) to say, OK, we 
don't need these ( marijuana) felonies ( in law), maybe we can relax 
the caregiver program, or maybe we should create co-ops because there 
really isn't this black market like law enforcement tells us."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom