Lawmakers continue to expand medical marijuana program


Last update: May 23, 2017


During the 2017 legislative session, the Hawaii Legislature considered dozens of marijuana policy bills, including legislation to expand the medical program, remove criminal penalties for possession, and legalize marijuana for adults’ use.

Early in the session, Gov. David Ige expressed reluctance to addressing other marijuana issues until the medical marijuana dispensary program is fully operational. Legislative champions focused on furthering that goal by passing legislation to improve the implementation process.

Two bills were ultimately advanced to the governor, H.B. 1488 and S.B. 786, which would replace all references to marijuana in the medical program with the word “cannabis.”

H.B. 1488 would add rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis to the list of qualifying conditions and allow patients and caregivers to access testing facilities. Patients and caregivers could cultivate three additional plants of any maturity, for a total of 10 plants. The phasing out of caregivers’ ability to grow marijuana plants for patients would be pushed back five years, to the end of 2023. H.B. 1488 would also authorize the Department of Health to permit current licensees to open one additional dispensary and allow them to cultivate more plants at their production sites. The bill also amends certain deadlines and relaxes overly restrictive laboratory standards to accelerate implementation.

With the successful implementation of the medical dispensary program, the state can turn its attention to improving other marijuana policies, such as reducing penalties for marijuana possession and ultimately ending prohibition.

Urge your lawmakers to support decriminalization and to legalize marijuana for adult use.

Legislative history


During 2016, there were significant developments in Hawaii’s medical marijuana dispensary program. On May 19, the Department of Health announced it approved eight dispensaries’ applications. In an effort to improve and clarify the medical marijuana dispensary program, HB 2707 was enacted, which strengthens the existing medical marijuana program by establishing an advisory commission to evaluate the program, including the impact on patients, the effectiveness of regulatory safeguards, and possible areas of expansion.

In 2000, the Hawaii Legislature became the first in the U.S. to allow seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana. Hawaii expanded patient access by creating a system for medical marijuana dispensaries. On July 14, 2015, Gov. David Ige signed two important medical marijuana laws. HB 321 allowed medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Hawaii, and SB 1291 strengthened anti-discrimination protections for patients. Click here for a summary of these laws.

HB 321 initially allowed eight dispensaries (three on Oahu, two each on Big Island and Maui, and one on Kauai) with two locations each. Starting in 2017, the Department of Health 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 strengthened 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.

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.



During its 2015-16 legislative session, the Hawaii Legislature had before it multiple bills to replace criminal penalties for possession of marijuana with a civil violation. However, despite significant public support, the only bill to become law was a study on the impact of decriminalization.

While the legislature continues to delay, voters want reform. A 2012 QMark Research poll found that 69% of Hawaii voters believe that jail time for marijuana offenses is inappropriate. In 2017, MPP plans to work with legislative champions and local allies to enact decriminalization legislation.

Legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana for adults’ use


Currently, eight states and the District of Columbia allow for adult use of marijuana, and several other state legislatures are considering the issue this year.

During the past several legislative sessions, multiple bills were filed that would have ended Hawaii’s prohibition of marijuana. It is expected similar legislation will be introduced in 2017.

Take action!

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, clergy member, 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.