A measure authorizing qualifying patients to transport medical cannabis between islands for personal use that was passed by the 2019 Legislature and subsequently vetoed by Gov. David Ige is back before lawmakers.
Senate Bill 241 would amend state law to allow for a qualifying in-state or out-of-state patient to transport cannabis between the islands for personal medical use. A measure to do just that was passed by the 2019 Legislature, however, Ige vetoed the measure, under the rationale that marijuana, including medical cannabis, remains illegal under federal law.
“Both the airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. This bill may lead travelers, acting in reliance on this provision, to erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution,” the governor said in his intent to veto.
The new measure was co-introduced in the 2021 Legislature on Jan. 22 by Sen. Joy San Buenaventura (D-Puna, Ka‘u) and Oahu Democratic Sens. Donna Mercado Kim and Chris Lee with co-sponsorship by Oahu Democratic Sens. Jarrett Keohokalole and Maile Shimabukuro. After passing a first reading on the Senate floor, it was referred to a joint committee on Health and Transportation followed by the Judiciary Committee.
The measure was taken up Wednesday by the joint committee on Health and Transportation. Ten individuals or groups testified in support of the measure while a handful of state offices and departments offered testimony opposing the bill’s passage.
Testifying against SB 241 were the state Office of the Attorney General, and the departments of Public Safety and Transportation. Each iterated that under federal law, the possession and transportation of marijuana, including medical cannabis, is illegal. The Department of Health said it supports access to medical cannabis and protections for patients, but deferred to the Attorney General and Department of Public Safety.
Testimony in support of the measure pointed to the bill creating equity for medical cannabis users across the state, as well as the need for patients to have access to their medicine.
“Right now, the only dispensaries are on Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui and Kauai, so the people who are suffering on Molokai and Lanai and Niihau have no way to access medicine from the dispensary and that’s why we support this,” said Community Alliance on Prisons Coordinator Kat Brady.
Oahu Akamai Cannabis Clinic Dr. Clifton Otto said patients need to transport medicine to ensure no disruption or change in dosage/strength.
“They’re not able to necessarily go to a dispensary on another island and find a product that will be effective for them,” he said. “This is especially true for patients producing their own cannabis medicine.”
Big Island Grown Dispensaries CEO Jaclyn L. Moore, Pharm.D., in written testimony seconded that opinion, noting the “inability to legally travel inter-island with their cannabis medicine while receiving medical care on other islands can be disruptive to their treatment, and progress. Inter-island transport of cannabis for personal use should be a basic right of a qualifying patient.”
Following no discussion or amendments, the measure passed both committees with Oahu Republican Sen. Kurt Favella, who sits on both committees, voting yes with reservations. Sen. Lorraine Inouye was excused from the transportation committee vote.
The bill next needs to secure a hearing before the Committee on Judiciary to remain alive.
Chair Jarrett Keohokalole in recommending the committee on health pass the measure noted Ige’s previous veto, but pointed to a possible change in the federal government’s stance on cannabis.
“We have a new federal administration that is likely to have a different policy as it relates to cannabis, especially as the industry and medical cannabis, in general, have changed so drastically over the last several years nationally,” he said.
According a January article by The Washington Post, Joe Biden, as president, could oversee broad changes in federal drug policy, including how the government and law enforcement agencies view drug addiction and treatment and classify the use of marijauana. That’s despite Biden previously not supporting federal legalization of marijauna for recreational use, including while on the campaign trail, citing concerns it could be a “gateway drug.”
During the general election campaign, however, Biden said the drug should be decriminalized and that individual states should decide whether to legalize it for recreational use. Marijuana since 1970 has been classified federally as a Schedule I narcotic for having “no currently acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, 15 states have legalized personal use of marijuana, while 36 others have approved some form of medicinal marijuana use.
As of Sunday, Hawaii had 31,077 valid in-state medical cannabis program patients, up from 27,393 a year ago. A county-by-county breakdown was not available for the month as of Thursday, however, at the end of 2020, Hawaii County reported 7,951 patients, according to the Department of Health.
The first of Hawaii Island’s eight medical cannabis dispensaries opened in January 2019, providing patients in Hawaii County a legal way to purchase the drug for the first time since 2000 when Hawaii legalized medical cannabis. The state legalized dispensaries in 2015.