Now that SB 321 has passed the Legislature, and Governor David Ige didn’t include it on his list of bills to veto, what has changed in Hawaii’s medical marijuana law? The Hawaii Legislature legalized medical marijuana 14 years ago, so what’s the big deal?
Actually, a lot. Until now, cardholders trying to obtain marijuana faced something of a legal/medical mystery. If you didn’t grow your own marijuana, which could be at best difficult for some sick and disabled patients, then you had to rely on a caregiver or the illegal black market. But the new law finally sets the foundation for dispensaries and grow facilities in the state.
Here’s what you need to know about Hawaii’s new marijuana law.
Puff puff pass! Pot’s now legalized in Hawaii, right?
Marijuana was legalized back in 2000 for medical use by Act 228, which was signed by then-Governor Ben Cayetano. But that bill left a gray area as to how patients were supposed to obtain their medicine. The act stated that disabled and ill cardholders were expected to grow their own or appoint a caregiver to the process. But the new law lays down a system for medicinal marijuana dispensaries. If you do not have a medical card and you have less than one ounce of marijuana, then under existing law it’s a misdemeanor penalty with a $1,000 maximum fine and 30 days in jail possible incarceration.
Cool! So when will the dispensary in my neighborhood open?
The new law allows for eight separate licenses to be obtained in the state. These licenses are island-specific: three on Oahu, two on Hawaii Island, two on Maui and one on Kauai. There is no provision for dispensaries on Molokai or Lanai at this time. Each license allows for two grow facilities and two dispensary locations. These facilities and retail locations are subject to local zoning laws and must not be located near playgrounds, schools or public housing.
They must also be clear of any federally owned roads or national parks. Let’s say your grow facility is in one place and your dispensary is in another–you can’t travel down any federal road between the two, or sit them near any federal facility or park. In any case, the law allows the licensees to open as early as in July 15, 2016.
Sounds like big business. Where do I get a license application?
Applications will be available to the public on Jan. 11, 2016, and can be turned in Jan. 12-29, 2016. So far, we don’t know what the application will look like or what the process will be, but the state Department of Health (DoH) will release more information on Jan. 4, 2016.
What we do know is that any person and persons applying can’t have any felony convictions. The entity applying must also have a minimum $1.2 million in escrow for at least 90 days prior to turning in their application. They will also have to disclose the total percentage of the license owned by Hawaii legal residents, how long each person began a legal residence in Hawaii, criminal background checks, business licenses and addresses for all applying entities. Also 51% of the entity must be Hawaii resident owned.
The application itself won’t be cheap, either. The fee starts with a non-refundable $5,000. Upon approval, the state will collect an additional $75,000. The license fees are set to renew at $50,000 annually.
Whoa. That’s a lot of kala to come up with. Why is it so expensive?
The process will establish a new agency within the DoH. The high cost of the licenses also weeds out (pun intended) any flakey applicants. According to Mike Patterson, CEO of US Cannabis Pharmaceutical Research and Development, “the process of putting together applications alone could cost as much as $200,000, and require as many as 66,000 pages of documents.”
Okay, I believe I have what it takes for a license. How will the DoH choose applicants?
The DoH says it will make its decisions based on merit. The winning combination shows that the applicant has the ability to operate a business, financial stability, access to resources, compliance with security requirements set by the Department of Health, an ability to meet the needs of qualifying patients and an ability to meet inventory control requirements as well as pass the criminal background checks. But remember: the applications and the complete details about the selection process won’t be available until Jan. 4, 2016.
What kind of illnesses will marijuana treat?
In Hawaii, ailments that can be treated with medical marijuana are specified in the law. They include epilepsy, cancer, glaucoma, HIV, MS, nausea, cachexia, chronic pain, Crohn’s disease and post traumatic stress disorder. The law also allows for petitioning the DoH with additions to that list.
I have severe chronic pain. Can my doctor prescribe marijuana?
No. What’s more, marijuana won’t be covered by insurance, either. The process for obtaining your Medical Use of Marijuana Minor Certification has recently changed. The applications have moved from the Narcotics Enforcement Division of the Department of Public Safety to the DoH’s STD/AIDS Prevention Branch (visit them online at Health.hawaii.gov/medicalmarijuana)
“The program was run for 14 years out of Public Safety and only came over to the department of health this year,” says Peter Whiticar, the chief of STD/AIDS Prevention Branch, in a video published on the DoH website. “Some patients and many in the community thought that [Narcotics Enforcement Division] was not the appropriate placement for a program that that is facilitating access to legal marijuana in a department whose mission is to suppress the use of drugs. That is why people thought it should be moved to the Department of Health so that it would have more of a public health focus.”
How long does it take to obtain a medical marijuana use card?
According to Scottina Malia Ruis, the Medical Marijuana Registry Coordinator at The Department of Health, new applications turn around in 4 to 6 weeks. However if you have an incomplete application, that will get sent back to you, and your application gets put in the back of the line when it is sent back in. The website Medicalmarijuanaofhawaii.org describes a backlog on applications sent to the DoH. The only number available for information from Department of Health on Medical Marijuana is a hotline with recorded information that redirects callers to the website for more information.
How do I get an application if I don’t have a computer or a printer?
Most of the doctors I spoke with and their voice mail recordings indicate you have to go to their websites to print out the forms prior to seeing your physician. The medical marijuana laws rely on a strong doctor patient relationship. Scottina Malia Ruis, the Medical Marijuana Registry Coordinator at The Department of Health, specifies “All applications are processed and submitted by physicians and/or their office staff. Patients are not able to submit applications – only change forms.” Ruis also states that if you have a question about your application “you should contact your physician or you can call 733-2164 if your physician is unable to assist you.”
I’m a caregiver growing medical marijuana for a patient. Will I be able to sell my medicine to a dispensary?
No, not under the current law. The dispensary and the grow facility are all one operation, run under a single license. Moreover caregivers will need to stop growing medicine by December 31, 2018, but some caregivers will be exempt from this phaseout.
I’m planning a vacation to Hawaii, and I have a legal medical marijuana card issued by my home state. Where can I buy my medicine?
That’s not known right now, but out-of-state cardholders will eventually be able to purchase their medicine, though not until Jan. 1, 2018. Happy New Year! Of course, the Department of Health still has to create the program for reciprocity so we’re not sure what you’ll need yet for registration or participation.
No Dabs or Wax? What kind of products are allowed in the dispensaries?
The law specifies capsules, lozenges, pills, oils, oil extracts, tinctures, ointments and skin lotions, in addition to marijuana. It specifically prohibits products made with butane–also called wax or butane hash oil. There’s also a line item in the law for “other products” specified by the Department of Health, so if there’s an additional item or preferred method of taking marijuana medicine, people can petition for that.
I grow my own medicine. Do I have to buy medicine at the dispensaries?
No, your right to grow your own medicine remains intact.
Are there limits to how much medicine can I buy at a dispensary?
The limit is four ounces every 15 consecutive days or 8 ounces per 30 consecutive days.
Hey, I have a bud-trimming business. Can I offer my services to the grow facilities?
Yes, the law allows for the license holders to subcontract out jobs like flower trimming and other cannabis processing businesses. There will also be an ancillary marketplace for accounting, engineering, architecture, legal and lab services, transportation and security.
A Big Mahalo to The Cannabiz Review found at http://thecannabizreview.com/ for the flower and assisting with the Medical Marijuana photo shoot. They are also on instagram at @thecannabizreview on instagram.
Other Medical Cannabis resources:
Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii
State Department of Health Medical Marijuana Registry
Department of Health Departments
Follow the bill through the legislature
Transfer and Upgrade of medical marijuana registration program
About wax marijuana products:
Law Enforcement FAQ
Take a look at the law from the perspective of a medical marijuana cardholder
Sunrise Analysis, Regulation of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries -Governors office audit report