Pubdate: Mon, 22 Aug 2016
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald (Hilo, HI)
Copyright: 2016 Hawaii Tribune Herald
Author: Kirsten Johnson


Medical Marijuana Proponents Predict Big Increase in Users

New data from the state Department of Health confirms Hawaii County 
has nearly twice as many medical marijuana patients as Oahu, with 
about 11 percent living in Pahoa alone.

On June 30, there were 6,101 patients residing on Hawaii Island, 
comprising 42 percent of the 14,492 patients statewide. The island 
has about 13 percent of the state's total population.

Pahoa, with an estimated 14,565 residents in 2014, had 702 of those 
patients. Meanwhile, Hilo - with roughly three times the population 
as Pahoa - had 637 patients. Kona had 705 and Oahu had 3,408 patients.

"The Big Island is a (draw) for open-minded, liberal, more 
alternative folks," said Andrea Tischler, local marijuana advocate 
and chairwoman of the Big Island chapter of Americans for Safe 
Access. "And in Pahoa, people don't have that resistance to using 
cannabis that others in the population might have. They use it not 
just for medical use, but also for recreational use, so they're more 
open-minded because they know it helps them."

The DOH has posted aggregate statistics about its medical marijuana 
registry program for about two years. However, the census-designated 
place data is new. Spokeswoman Janice Okubo said in an email 
additional information posted for the first time July 7 is aimed at 
helping newly licensed dispensary operators determine where to locate 
retail stores. The department plans to update it yearly, she said, 
and also will use it when determining where to issue future 
dispensary licenses.

Current law allows the DOH to issue additional licenses starting Oct. 
1, 2017. Only one license can be issued per 500 patients who live in a county.

The DOH's June 30 report also shows medical marijuana patients are 
overwhelmingly male and older. Just one-third were female, and more 
than 60 percent were over the age of 60.

Nearly 70 percent used medical cannabis

for pain and about 13 percent for muscle spasms. Around 17 percent 
collectively - comprising 2,212 people - used the drug for cancer, 
nausea, PTSD, cachexia, glaucoma, seizures and HIV or AIDS.

The number of patients statewide has also sharply increased. Almost 
2,000 more people were registered into the program at the end of July 
than in April. There are about 20 percent more patients this summer 
than in August 2015.

Some marijuana proponents expect numbers to jump even more. State 
Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona and a physician, predicts the number of 
patients to "double every year for the next two years."

"By 2018, there will be 30,000 and by 2020 somewhere between 60,000 
and 85,000," he said.

Green said recent changes to the law will help the industry become 
more "mainstream" and lose "its stigma." For example, lawmakers 
passed a bill this year that gives advanced practice registered 
nurses the ability to certify new patients.

DOH data shows the 14,492 patients counted statewide June 30 were 
certified by just 88 physicians.

"It's clear that it will be a significant part of the medical 
economy," Green said.

"I'm very convinced we've had an artificial bottleneck because of the 
small number of providers."

Those looking to join the medical marijuana program must first 
schedule an appointment with a certifying physician, according to the 
DOH website. They must then complete an online application, make a 
non-refundable payment and upload required documents online, 
including a valid ID.

The physician will then review the application and certify the 
condition. If all checks out, the DOH issues the patient a card.

Okubo said the DOH does not anticipate any changes to the 
certification program once dispensaries open "but is always looking 
at ways to improve the process."

Once dispensaries open, she said, current patients can immediately 
begin using them. They must have a valid card and photo ID.

The DOH awarded licenses to eight companies earlier this year who 
will open Hawaii's first medical marijuana dispensaries.

Medical cannabis was legalized in the state in 2000, but up until 
now, patients have had to either grow it themselves or get it from a 
caregiver. Former banana farmer Richard Ha and retired attorney 
Shelby Floyd were selected to open the Big Island's first dispensaries.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom