Marijuana policy makes progress


Last update: September 12, 2016


Recent events

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, each of which can operate up to two locations. Dispensaries are not expected to open before late this year, because a testing laboratory has not been approved yet.

In an effort to improve and clarify the medical marijuana dispensary program enacted in 2015, Gov. David Ige signed into law HB 2707 on July 21. Introduced by Rep. Della Belatti, HB 2707 strengthens 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.

Legislative history

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 under 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.

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 anti-discrimination protections for patients. Click here for a summary of these laws.

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 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 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.


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

In the 2012 QMark poll, a majority of Hawaiians – 57% – supported ending marijuana prohibition and replacing it with a system that would legalize marijuana for adults and regulate it like alcohol. As is the case nationwide, this represents a significant increase in support over a very short period of time. In 2005, only 37% of respondents supported ending prohibition.

During the past several legislative sessions, multiple bills were filed that would end 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, 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.