Council committee OKs medical marijuana resolutions

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HILO — Hawaii County Council members want greater home rule over medical marijuana dispensaries and they want the chance to levy a tax on marijuana sales.

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HILO — Hawaii County Council members want greater home rule over medical marijuana dispensaries and they want the chance to levy a tax on marijuana sales.

The Committee on Governmental Relations and Economic Development on Tuesday voted 8-0, with Puna Councilman Greggor Illagan absent, to advance two nonbinding resolutions asking the state Legislature to give county government greater say over where grow operations and dispensaries can be located.

The resolutions also ask for the ability for the county to charge up to 5 percent local sales tax on dispensary sales, and to remove the ban that starts in 2019 on patients assigning “primary caregivers” to grow their pot for them.

“We’re cut out of the decisions, and how do we become a part of the discussion,” said Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, sponsor of the resolutions. “There’s the power of monopoly. … We’re out of the conversation and yet we’re told, ‘You bear the burden.’ I see this as yet another unfunded mandate.”

Council Chairman Dru Kanuha, representing central Kona, agreed the county should have a say, insomuch as it has zoning control. He said the new law was “rushed through,” with little input from those who would be most affected.

“The counties should have had a greater involvement in the bill,” Kanuha said.

Wille’s move for more local control follows constituent concerns in Kohala that their community might be harmed by marijuana grow operations nearby.

“The more I learn of the new marijuana law, the scarier it gets,” said Veronica Eugenio, speaking from Kohala.

But other testifiers said the county shouldn’t try to enforce where the marijuana can be grown.

“We don’t need other people’s mothers telling grown men what to do,” said Richard Abbett, testifying from Naalehu.

“Gimme a break; it’s a plant,” said Sarah Steiner, testifying from Pahoa.

There are approximately 13,800 registered medical marijuana users in the state, with about 5,500 of them living on the Big Island. The state medical marijuana law was enacted in 2000, but the law was vague on how patients could obtain their medicine, forcing many to go to the black market.

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The state Legislature and Gov. David Ige earlier this year opened the way for two licensees on the Big Island to each operate two production centers, with a maximum of 3,000 plants on each, and two dispensaries. The state Department of Health is required to provide for a selection process and criteria for license applicants by Jan. 4.

Dispensaries and production centers will have to comply with county zoning regulations, and will not be allowed within 750 feet of a school, playground or public housing project or complex, under the new law.

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