Hawai‘i medical marijuana dispensary bill in jeopardy: Legislative tension has slowed progress

The Kaleo Voice

A bill that would allow for medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawai‘i has potentially halted due to tension between the state House and Senate. 

House Bill (HB) 321 would establish a new chapter for medical marijuana dispensaries and limits  amounts that can be purchased. However, House members who have disagreed with Senate amendments — and vice versa — have caused an ongoing delay that started April 16. The May 1 change of conferees further contributed to the delay in a decision. Now, a conference committee meeting has been called for May 4.

“The lead negotiators on each chair are far apart on a variety of issues,” said state Rep. Karl Rhoads, in a telephone interview on April 30. “The bill is in jeopardy. I don’t know if anything is going to pass.”

Differences in the capitol

According to Susan Chandler, Public Policy Center director and task force member and facilitator, the Chairman for the Committee of Health Sen. Josh Green has a different approach to the way he wants to do the dispensaries.

“It looks like the difficulty now in the senate is on the number of the dispensaries,” Chandler said in a telephone interview on April 30. “The question now is: how many dispensaries should there be, and where should they be and who should be able to run them?”

In addition, multiple senate members believe the proposed dispensary is insufficient and have submitted testimony in opposition of HB 321.

“While HB 321 ... addresses a number of concerns previously expressed by this Department and other testifiers, in many ways, it still lacks sufficient limitations, controls, standards and regulations to prevent or minimize abuse by those who would attempt to utilize such a system for the illicit use and/or diversion of marijuana,” said state Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran and state Sen. Tokuda in written testimony April 8. 

Members of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor, as well as the the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney of the City and County of Honolulu also contributed to the testimony.

Among a list of proposed amendments, the group wants a limit of one dispensary license per county and only six dispensaries statewide. In addition to this, the senators proposed Senate Bill 682 to be incorporated into HB 321 so that it “would prohibit medical marijuana from being consumed or removed from its sealed container in all public places,” limitations of dispensary transportation of marijuana and make patients opt to either grow their own or utilize a dispensary and not both, according to the testimony. 

This proposal has been met with disagreement from the House, and ongoing conference meetings have taken place to discuss the difference. 

Establishing dispensaries 

Last year, House Concurrent Resolution 48 requested that the Univeristy of Hawai‘i’s College of Social Sciences Public Policy Center conduct and oversee a task force to “develop recommendations for the establishment of a regulated statewide dispensary system for medical marijuana,” according to their website. Representation was included from the legislature, state agencies, the medical profession, law enforcement, the Drug Policy Forum, the American Civil Liberties Union, a caregiver and two medical marijuana recipients. 

According to a previous Ka Leo report, the task force’s goal was “to get a consensus, and avoid a minority report – a report of members that don’t agree with recommendations.”

“For many years, the state has been trying to develop a way to dispense medical marijuana that is legal,” Chandler said. 

Chandler said the task force spent a lot of time listening to medical marijuana growers from other states, patients, police departments and doctors and believes the task force came up with a good compromise.

Current Law

According to Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Hawai‘i enacted a law in June 2000 that allowed seriously ill patients to use and grow their own medical marijuana. 

Current Hawai‘i law allows medical marijuana patients to have up to seven live marijuana plants, according to ASA. However, the law fails to address medical marijuana dispensaries or sources where patients can gain access to medical marijuana. Currently, there are no marijuana dispensaries in Hawai‘i.

Rhoads says that HB 321 is intended to allow medical marijuana patients to use the law that was passed in 2000.

“As a public policy, if you’re going to say that medical marijuana is helpful, then there should be a way for people to get it,” Chandler said.