Hawai‘i Legislators Have Not Forgotten About Medical Marijuana

Practical changes for Hawai‘i's medical marijuana dispensaries are on the horizon.


IMG_2018Yesterday was Opening Day for the 2016 Session of the Hawai‘i Legislature, and residents flew in from all over the state to hear what their elected officials have planned for the new year. Homelessness and affordable housing were hot-button topics in both the House and Senate Chambers, but Speaker of the House Joseph Souki had yet another legislative achievement on his mind: fixing Hawai‘i’s medical marijuana system. Speaker Souki was clearly proud of the Legislature’s monumental achievement in legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries – a feat that he noted was over a decade in the making. The dispensary bill was created to provide “safe and reliable access” for medical marijuana patients, said Souki, and it’s the Legislature’s responsibility to “make sure its done well now.”

Speaker Souki did not propose any specific changes for Hawai‘i’s medical marijuana law, but his speech reflected the confusion that many legislators felt in the wake of the Department of Health’s interim rules for marijuana dispensaries. Legislators want to get back to the dispensary program’s original purpose of providing safe and reliable access to Hawai‘i’s medical marijuana patients, and they are not afraid of overruling the Department of Health’s rules in the process. Indeed, House Majority Leader Scott Saiki’s brief comments yesterday morning focused on the Legislature taking on a more active role with the administrative departments, though he did not mention the Department of Health or the medical marijuana program as specific examples. It is clear that legislators intend this session to be less about political grandstanding and more about finding practical fixes that they can actually follow through on.

So what type of legislation can we expect to see in the upcoming session? One issue that we’ll probably see several bills address is the current ban on greenhouses being used for marijuana cultivation. The more conservative fixes will seek to allow a “hybrid greenhouse” structure, while other legislators would do away with indoor grow requirements entirely. There will also be a push to expand the types of marijuana products available in dispensaries. Some legislators are content to simply remove the Department of Health’s prohibition on inhalable products such as “pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes,” but other’s want to repeal a ban on the edibles put in place by the legislature itself. Other measures with varying levels of support include revised laboratory testing standards, horizontal integration, and decriminalization of marijuana possession.

Regardless of the likelihood of success for each individual measure, one thing is clear: legislators are not ready to wipe their hands clean of Hawai‘i’s medical marijuana dispensary system. Getting a dispensary system in place was just the first step for the Hawai‘i Legislature. Now they face the daunting task of troubleshooting the industry’s problems before its too late.