Hawaii lawmakers resurrect medical marjuana dispensary system

After lengthy, sometimes heated, deliberation Friday, Hawaii lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on the implementation of a medical marijuana dispensary system, but the bill will return to conference committee on Monday under different leadership on the Senate side.  Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona-Kau, was discharged as the Senate chair late Friday, and replaced by Sen. Will Espero, D-Ewa Beach, while Sen. Les Ihara, D-Kaimuki-Moiliili, was added as a Senate conferee. Friday was the deadline for bills to move out of conference committee in order to move to a final vote on the floors of the Senate and the House Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s end of the session. The dispensary bill appeared to be dead after a final conference meeting Friday afternoon, but lawmakers will bring it back to conference committee at noon on Monday.  Although both chambers agree the Islands need a dispensary system 15 years after medical marijuana was legalized in the state, conferees could not agree on a timeline for the introduction and an application method.  Green, a physician, had pushed for applications to be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, starting July 31.  Rep. Della Au Belatti, D-Makiki-Manoa, House co-chair, has advocated a Hawaii State Department of Health merit-based approach to applications, and warned that a speedy timeline could lead to an executive veto, since health and public safety departments have expressed concern with the fast adoption date. 

The bill would have authorized an official dispensary operating date of May 1, 2016.  House conferees could not agree to everything in the Senate draft of House Bill 321 HD1 SD2, which included the following:

  • One license per county would be permitted, with two grow sites per license.
  • A total of 10 dispensaries would be permitted for all four counties, including five for Oahu, two each for Maui and the Big Island, and one for Kauai.
  • The license applicant pool will be open to all DCCA PBL licensed professionals — more than 100,000 individuals would be eligible to apply — to address House concerns about a health care industry monopoly.

Applications would be received on a first-come, first-served basis, rather than a merit-based system.

The diagnostic conditions for medical marijuana patients would be expanded to include anxiety, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Senate and the House Representatives had been scrambling to resolve differences to draft a final version, although they agreed that it is time to introduce a system 15 years after medical marijuana was legalized in the state.

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