Monday, May 4, 2015

Lawmakers Advance Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Bill for Final Reading

House and Senate conferees today advanced a bill that would create medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state. The measure now goes to both chambers for a full floor vote. If passed, the bill will be sent to the Governor for his signature, veto or passage without his signature.

HB321, CD1 closely aligns with recommendations of a task force commissioned by a House Concurrent Resolution authored last year by House Health Committee Chair Rep. Della Au Belatti (Makiki, Tantalus, Papakolea, McCully, Pawaa, Manoa).

The measure would establish a medical marijuana dispensary system and provide a total of eight dispensary licenses statewide, three in Honolulu, two on Maui County and Hawaii Island, and one on Kauai. Each dispensary licensee would have the option to open up to two retail locations. The state will begin taking licensee applications from January 11-29, 2016. Each dispensary may commence dispensing medical marijuana and related products to qualifying patients or primary caregivers on July 15, 2016.

“It’s been a long haul, to get this bill to this point, going to back to last session when we deferred an earlier effort to provide legal access to medical marijuana,” Belatti said. “Because of a number of issues, including those relating to the safety and security of the dispensaries, we sought more studied input so that we would be on firm ground when drafting this year’s measure.

“The Task Force’s findings are what informed the House’s version of the bill and why we felt strongly about following its recommendations when we went to conference. If we were intensely focused on seeing this measure passed this session, can you imagine how patients who require medical marijuana to get by each day must have felt? Some have waited 15 years for this day to come,” added Belatti, who was an active participant on the Task Force and co-introducer of the bill with House Speaker Joseph M. Souki (Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku, Waikapu).

“Sometimes it takes a while for the stars to align, especially when it comes to legislation,” said Souki, who has been a long time and vocal proponent of legalizing both medical marijuana and creating dispensaries. In fact, in last year’s opening day remarks, he called for the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries.

“It is long overdue, but it is the humanitarian thing to do; it is the right thing to do,” he added.

In 2000, the Legislature passed a bill legalizing the use of medical marijuana, but left the nearly 13,000 patients who qualify to use it no legal way of accessing the drug. For them, including very young children, medical marijuana was the only way to treat or alleviate pain or other symptoms associated with certain debilitating illnesses.

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