House Bill 321, which would establish seven marijuana dispensaries across the state, is back from the dead. After an impasse that nearly killed the bill, the House and Senate conferees at the Hawaii State Legislature have advanced it for a vote by the full legislature for a floor vote.
HB321, CD1 would establish a medical marijuana dispensary system and provide a total of eight dispensary licenses statewide, three in Honolulu, two on Maui County and Hawaii Island, and one on Kauai. Each dispensary licensee would have the option to open up to two retail locations. If the bill passes, the state will begin taking licensee applications from would-be dispensaries from January 11 to 29, 2016. The dispensaries would would begin selling medical marijuana and related products to qualifying patients or primary caregivers on July 15, 2016.
“I’m excited we will launch dispensaries in 2016,” wrote Sen. Josh Green (D-Kona), who heads the Senate Health Committee. “The final draft included some provisions I fought for such as reciprocity with other states, the ability for ALL doctors to authorize MM cards and PTSD as an approved condition. I hope that all of the licenses ultimately are awarded to qualified, well intentioned local people who put Hawaii patient concerns first. We’ll have several dispensaries on Big Island in the coming years.”
But Green reportedly got into an impasse between himself and House Health Committee Chair Della Au Belatti that nearly killed the bill. The dispute was over how licenses for the dispensaries would be issued–Green favored awarding them on a first come, first served basis. The bill moved forward after he was excused as conference committee representative and replaced by Sen. Will Espero (D-Ewa), the Senate Health Committee’s vice chair. In place of the “first come first served” language, the current bill calls for the Department of Health to set up “a selection process and criteria based on merit for verified applicants.”
Asked how the deadlock was resolved, Green told the Chronicle, “We had the public safety chair [Sen. Greg Takayama, D-Pearl City) decide that point. I contributed the health features of the bill,’ Green told the Chronicle.
“That was the real sticking point between Josh and Della. Josh wanted first come, first served. Josh wasn’t going to budge,” Rep. Richard Creagan (D-South Kona, Ka’u, Volcano) told the Chronicle. “Della and Josh had worked very hard on it, but they just couldn’t get it across the finish line.”
“It’s been a long haul, to get this bill to this point, going to back to last session when we deferred an earlier effort to provide legal access to medical marijuana,” Belatti said. “Because of a number of issues, including those relating to the safety and security of the dispensaries, we sought more studied input so that we would be on firm ground when drafting this year’s measure… If we were intensely focused on seeing this measure passed this session, can you imagine how patients who require medical marijuana to get by each day must have felt? Some have waited 15 years for this day to come,” said Belatti.
Creagan who vice-chairs the House Health Committee, and who, like Green, is a certified emergency room physician, noted, “I don’t think anybody is overjoyed with this bill, but at least we have a bill.It’s not greatly changed from what it was Friday before the impasse, but it’s improved compared to the earlier versions….that the current version of the bill does eliminate a proposed 45 percent excise tax on medical marijuana, reducing it to “Just a normal excise tax, like anything else.” And the new bill, he said, would allow prescriptions by doctors other than primary care physicians, and will expand the definition of ailments for which marijuana can be described to include post-traumatic stress syndrome. Other condition such as insomnia and anxiety disorders may be added later: “The Health Dept. will be able to add conditions, and they said they would be working on that.“
The bill would not pre-empt the option of patients growing their own plants, he said. He suspected the dispensary prices would actually be higher than street prices on the Big Island. But, he believed, “One of the things medical dispensaries will do is that the strains will be better characterized.”
Creagan said he thought the bill will benefit O`ahu more than the big Island. “Probably more people on Oahu will use the dispensaries, because it will e easier and more convenient, and people on Oahu have more money,’ he commented. The big Island is actually in pretty good shape, because most people can get a hold of marijuana pretty easily anyway. Oahu—it’s just harder to grow it over there… People have an easier time to grow it on the Big Island, and a lot of people know how to grow it on the Big Island. ”
Creagan said he didn’t know much about the medical marijuana issue initially, but he’d gotten educated on it by talking to his constituents. Having the dispensary option, he believed, would make physicians more comfortable, and would help the process of “normalizing” the idea of medical marijuana use.
“I think that we’re just getting comfortable with the idea that marijuana is beneficial and safe, and is more safe than most prescription medication, he said, and noted that “ People are realizing that there was all this misinformation and misconceptions, and are now much more comfortable that marijuana is a a acceptable thing. He noted, for instance that the notion that marijuana was addictive had been fostered by a law enforcement system that mandated “drug treatment programs” for those caught using: “People got out of legal entanglements by agreeing to go to drug treatment programs…there was noway they were addictive, but it was just an easy way to get out of trouble with the law.”
He credited the legislator’s leaders for saving the bill. When the deadlock occurred he said, “The leadership recognized that it was more important not to let the bill die for relatively minor reasons.”
“It is long overdue, but it is the humanitarian thing to do; it is the right thing to do,” noted House Speaker and bill co-sponsor Joe Souki.