Ige signs medical marijuana bill

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HILO — Some proponents are giving an “A” grade to new updates to Hawaii’s medical marijuana dispensary law, but plan to lobby for more changes in the future.


HILO — Some proponents are giving an “A” grade to new updates to Hawaii’s medical marijuana dispensary law, but plan to lobby for more changes in the future.

On Monday, Gov. David Ige signed House Bill 2707, an omnibus bill which aims to tie-up loose ends in current dispensary law and increase access for patients.

Lawmakers passed a bill last year establishing the state’s first dispensary system since medical marijuana was legalized in 2000. Patients have previously had to grow cannabis themselves or acquire it from a caregiver.

Dispensary operators can legally open starting Friday, but it’s unknown how many — if any — will be ready to do so. Companies led by former banana farmer Richard Ha and retired Waimea-based attorney Shelby Floyd will operate Hawaii Island’s first dispensaries.

The changes:

— Allow for advanced practice registered nurses to certify new patients, a move hoped to give prospective patients more options. At one point, statistics showed about 90 percent of the state’s medical marijuana certifications were recommended by only 10 doctors.

— Allow dispensaries to claim certain state business tax credit write-offs, a cost savings hoped to be transferred to customers. However the bill also clarifies dispensaries are not eligible to receive tax exemptions for building in enterprise zones.

— Remove a rule which required patients and caregivers who enter dispensaries to undergo background checks.

— Allow dispensaries to grow plants in buildings with transparent or translucent roofs starting in 2017. Growing under natural sunlight is hoped to cut electricity costs and lower prices.

— Clarify that a single “plant” must be at least 12 inches high and 12 inches wide. A dispensary can have up to 3,000 plants per production center. Under the definition, a dispensary could have an infinite number of smaller-sized clones and seedlings, according to Garrett Halydier, vice president of the Honolulu-based Hawaii Dispensary Alliance, which could allow for more diverse varieties and a quicker turnover.

— Clarify that prohibitions regarding drug paraphernalia do not apply to people who use medical marijuana legally.

— Direct the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism to collect non-identifiable data about dispensaries and the state’s medical marijuana program. Data could include the amount of cannabis grown and sold, where it’s grown and for what price.

— Expands the list of marijuana products patients can legally buy to include transdermal skin patches and inhalers. Patients still can’t purchase marijuana cigarettes, though Halydier said those wanting to use them could still purchase raw bud product at dispensaries and roll themselves.

— Allows marijuana to be transferred between islands for testing purposes, a move essential for dispensaries located on an island with no testing lab. It could also save money, Halydier said, by consolidating all product testing to a single location.

— Allows dispensaries to stay open on Sundays.

— Allows the University of Hawaii to conduct marijuana-related testing and research.

— Establishes a “legislative oversight working group” to develop bills to continue improving the dispensary system. Members will include state lawmakers, industry advocates, a physician, patients, a caregiver, an advanced practice registered nurse and representatives from law enforcement.

Big Island lawmakers previously lauded the bill as changing law to be more “pro-patient” rather than “pro-law enforcement.” Maj. Samuel Thomas on Monday said law enforcement doesn’t forsee any problems with the new updates — or dispensaries — so long as the businesses follow the rules and have proper security protocol in place.

“Our concern is when it gets into the hands of the person it’s not intended to,” Thomas said. “So we just hope it will be used as it has intended to be used.”

Kona-based patient Subhadra Corcoran, who previously told the Tribune-Herald she didn’t think she’d be able to afford medicine at dispensaries, lauded the bill’s changes but said her concerns remain. Corcoran critiqued the state’s current plan to phase out its caregiver program in 2018 and said she hopes lawmakers reconsider the move in the future.

Recent changes “beat nothing but until they fix that the law isn’t very effective,” she said.

Halydier said the Hawaii Dispensary Alliance will continue pushing to change areas still not addressed, but overall advocates are overall pleased with changes.

“We were really pleased with the sheer number of changes were were able to make in this bill which is often not easy,” Halydier said. “We’d give it an ‘A.’”

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