Conference Committee considering legislation to improve medical marijuana program
Last update: April 25, 2016
In 2000, Hawaii’s legislature became the first in the U.S. to allow seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana. Last year, Hawaii expanded patient access by creating a system for medical marijuana dispensaries through Act 241. As the Department of Health has worked to implement the program, it has become clear that additional legislation is necessary to strengthen and clarify the law.
Introduced by Rep. Della Belatti, HB 2707 would strengthen the existing medical marijuana program by establishing an advisory commission to evaluate the implementation of the medical marijuana dispensary program, including the impact on patients, the effectiveness of regulatory safeguards, and possible areas of expansion.
After the bill made its way through the House and Senate, a conference committee was created to determine the final language of the bill. Advocates are calling on members of the committee to include several important provisions in the final bill such as allowing for the inter-island transport of marijuana for testing purposes. In addition, the legislation should decriminalize possession of paraphernalia necessary for patient administration of medical marijuana. The bill should also include the ability of dispensaries to use greenhouses for cultivation, for service contractors to work with multiple licensees, and for dispensaries to sell pre-rolled whole plant products.
On July 14, 2015, Gov. David Ige signed two important medical marijuana laws. HB 321 allows medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Hawaii, and SB 1291 strengthens civil protections for patients.
HB 321 initially allows eight dispensaries (three on Oahu, two each on Big Island and Maui, and one on Kauai) with two locations each. Starting in 2017, the state health department will be allowed to issue more licenses as needed. Each dispensary license will allow the license holder to have two cultivation sites with up to 3,000 plants, as well as the two dispensing locations that must be separate from the cultivation locations.
SB 1291 strengthens existing civil protections for medical marijuana patients and adds new protections that prevent landlords, schools, and courts from discriminating against medical marijuana patients. Click here for a summary of the law.
Decriminalization and prohibition
The Hawaii Legislature has before it legislation that would replace criminal penalties for possession of marijuana with a civil violation and proposals to end the Aloha State’s marijuana prohibition by taxing and regulating adult marijuana sales similarly to Colorado.
A QMark Research poll, commissioned by the Drug Policy Action Group and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, found that 69% of Hawaii voters believe that jail time for marijuana offenses is inappropriate, and an overwhelming 57% favor legalizing marijuana for adults and regulating it like alcohol. This last number is 20% higher than the last poll conducted in 2005.
In addition to polling, an economic analysis was commissioned from University of Hawaii economist David Nixon. Dr. Nixon estimates that Hawaii could redirect $9 million annually if it stopped arresting individuals for marijuana possession. Additionally, Hawaii could generate tax revenues of up to $11 million annually if the state legalized, regulated, and taxed the sale of marijuana to adults.
Multiple bills have been filed that will end Hawaii’s marijuana prohibition this session, giving legislators the opportunity to take a fiscally sound approach to marijuana policy when they reconvene in 2016.
Speak out: Please ask your state lawmakers to support reducing the penalty for simple possession of marijuana with a modest fine. Or, ask your legislators to support ending the costly and futile prohibition of marijuana.
Contact us: If you are a law enforcement official, a clergy member, a member of the legal community, or if you were arrested for simple possession of marijuana, please email [email protected] to see how you can be of special help. Be sure to include your zip code so we can determine who your legislators are.
Stay connected: To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Hawaii, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.