Aloha Reform: Hawaii’s Medical Program Moves Forward

The island state of Hawaii, also known as the Paradise State, just got one step closer to that goal this month. On July 15, 2015, Gov. David Ige signed HB 321, a bill authorizing the use of medical marijuana, into state law.

“I support the establishment of dispensaries to ensure that qualified patients can legally and safely access medical marijuana,” he said in a press release. “We know that our challenge going forward will be to adopt rules that are fair, cost effective and easy to monitor. The bill sets a timeline. We will make a good faith effort to create a fair process that will help the people most in need.”

Hawaii lawmakers have clearly attempted to address issues that have plagued other states in the establishment of new medical programs, including the fact that the legislation prohibits counties from enacting zoning regulations that ban licensed dispensaries and production centers. The new law also allows the legal transport of medical marijuana in any public place by those given permission to do so—qualified patients, caregivers, etc.

Yet the bill clearly also goes into some interesting territory still being pioneered on the edges of legalization. The bill addresses the reluctance of some in the medical community to recommend the drug by allowing patients to find doctors who will recommend it and also establish an ongoing relationship with them rather than requiring the certification to be written by one’s primary physician.

Even more interesting, the reciprocity measures in the statute also create the second state where out-of-towners can access medical marijuana while visiting—in this case, presumably on vacation. In this, Hawaii has looked to Nevada, also a tourist state with a high percentage of health-related tourism, in creating the possibility at least for a thriving bifurcated market that will serve not only locals but out-of-towners. This is also going to undoubtedly be good for the ganja-scented global travel industry if not local marijuana establishments.

Like other states, however, Hawaii has authorized a criminal background check for those who work in the industry itself, but not patients.  This practice has been highly controversial in other states and may have led to lower patient signups for state medical programs to date, most notably Illinois.

Hawaii has also prohibited caregivers from cultivating medical marijuana after December 31, 2018, with the presumed goal of creating tighter regulations on growing and dispensing.

That said, this is clearly another step in the right direction. What is also interesting is that the bill, passed through the state legislature, has clearly created a relatively non-controversial yet effective and inclusive bill that legalizes full plant use and sets the stage for the growth of a regulated industry set up to serve not only medical tourists, but perhaps a recreational vertical down the road.

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