Hawaii has had a medical marijuana law on the books since 2000—but that’s still all we have. While states like California and Colorado have set up successful (and lucrative) dispensaries, Hawaii patients are forced to either grow their own medicine or buy it on the black market. There are a number of reasons for this, but eight years under Republican Gov. Linda Lingle—who blasted the medical law, vetoed efforts to expand and improve it and hid behind federal prohibition—didn’t help.
To borrow a phrase from Gov. Neil Abercrombie, it’s a new day, and this legislative session featured a handful of medical pot bills. Most have gone up in smoke, but the one that’s still rolling may be the most important: SB1458, introduced by Maui Senator Kalani English, would set up “a comprehensive five-year medical marijuana distribution pilot program in an unspecified county” (an earlier version of the bill specified Maui County).
“I took this up because I saw people who were suffering, sometimes in the last months of their life. And they were asking, ‘Where can I get my medicine?’” says English. He adds that he had to “make the bill dripping with money” to give it broad appeal in these lean economic times.
Naturally, dispensaries (or “compassion centers”) would be taxed, but the bill has other provisions, including allowing visiting patients from states with medical marijuana laws to purchase a $100 temporary permit, good for the duration of their stay (pot tourism, anyone?).
The bill cleared the Senate and is currently moving through the House. English says he thinks it has a “really good chance of passing,” though he admits it’s been an arduous process. It’s gone through many revisions, and some changes—such as reducing the scope from a statewide system to an isolated pilot program and forcing dispensaries to make a complete patient list available to law enforcement at any time “without notice”—have pot advocates up in arms.
English emphasizes that the bill isn’t finalized, and says anything that’s been added or removed is still open for discussion. “Everything’s on the table,” he says.
Of course, the bill has staunch opponents as well—and not just in the legislature. Last month, at the behest of Maui Police Chief Gary Yabuta, on-duty MPD officers handed out anti-marijuana pamphlets outside WalMart in Kahului. English says MPD overstepped its bounds. “Their job is to enforce the laws that exist, not to pass out propaganda trying to change the law,” he says. “It seems like law enforcement is trying to suppress what many citizens would deem OK.”
Though SB1458 is the only legislation that looks to have a chance this session, English says other bills—dealing with questions like how much marijuana a patient can possess, and whether oversight of the law should be transferred from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health—can be revived next year. “Keep writing your representatives,” he says, “and letting them know this is an important issue for you, and for Hawaii.”