Kid Cudi sings about it (although someone should tell him Honolulu isn’t on Maui), every twenty-something from the Pacific Northwest asks about it, and Paia Town seemingly runs on it, so why is weed on Maui still so hush-hush? Oh, right! ‘Cause it’s still illegal.
Despite that, I’m here to break down Hawaii’s current stance on the marijuana industry and the baby steps toward going green on Maui.
A Little History
Many people assume that The Aloha State is far more progressive than it actually is in terms of marijuana legislation.
Although Hawaii was among one of the first states to adopt medical marijuana in 2000 (behind only 6 other states), and the first to enact a medical marijuana program legislatively, it has since has fallen behind in terms of ever-growing changes in medical marijuana legislation recently seen in other states.
Considering it’s still illegal to simultaneously dance and drink in public on Maui – what drunken, ill dance-moved buffoon ruined that one for us? – the fact that marijuana hasn’t been decriminalized or recreationally legalized isn’t the most shocking of all news, but one that’s nonetheless in need of further attention.
A Current Look
As of this year, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Colorado have all legalized marijuana for recreational use, and 19 states have decriminalized marijuana. Economists project an estimated $578 million in sales and $70 million in state tax revenue in Colorado’s first year alone.
Under current law in Hawaii, individual possession of less than 1 oz. of marijuana is considered a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $1,000.
While medical marijuana is legal in the state of Hawaii, there are currently no dispensaries where pre-approved patients can purchase it. As a patient, you have two options – 1) grow it yourself, or 2) designate a ‘caregiver’ to grow it for you. Both of you cannot grow simultaneously, however, and caregivers can only grow for one patient at a time, and must be at least 18 years old. If you choose to grow it yourself, another person may not help you care for or manage the plants.
In order to be eligible to grow your own medical marijuana, a medical history of cancer, HIV or AIDS, chronic pain, nausea, Crohn’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, glaucoma, cachexia, or epilepsy must be shown. Once approved, patients must obtain a registry ID card by submitting the proper documents to the Narcotics Enforcement Division, including a copy of their passport or current Hawaii ID, along with a $25 registration fee.
Decade-old legislation has highlighted several problematic holes in the system, however, including employer drug testing of registered patients, and allowing medical marijuana on inter-island flights.
In 2014, the Big Island had the highest registered number of medical marijuana users in the state at just over 5,000, while Maui and Oahu had almost 3,000, Kauai almost 2,000, and Molokai, Lanai and Niihau had a combined count of less than 300 users.
As of January 2015, patients can grow up to 7 total plants (previously this was limited to 3 mature plants), all of which can be in any stage of maturity. Patients may only have a maximum of 4 oz. of useable marijuana in their possession at any given time.
There was also a recent transfer of the Medical Use of Marijuana Program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health.
In addition, your primary care physician is now the only person authorized to recommend the use of medical marijuana. Despite its medical legalization, doctors in the state of Hawaii cannot legally prescribe the use of medical marijuana due to the fact that it’s still considered a Schedule 1 Drug (alongside Heroin, MDMA and Bath Salts) under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and not recognized for its medical uses by the Department of Justice.
As of late April, lawmakers in Hawaii were unable to come to an agreement about the implementation specifics of medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state. Senator Josh Green, appropriately-named as he is, was discharged as the Senate Chair, and replaced by Senator Will Espero. A timeline for the introduction of dispensaries and the application method, including whether licensed applicants would be received on a first-come, first-serve basis or merit-based system, were among the most controversial topics.
Current maybes for future legislation would also include a widening of the medical marijuana language to include patients with anxiety, insomnia, and PTSD.
House Bill 321
With the passage of House Bill 321 on May 4th, 2015, it’s possible that Hawaii could see operating medical marijuana dispensaries as soon as next July. Since HB321 has now also passed in the House and Senate, the bill will advance to Governor David Ige for his signature, veto, or passage without a signature, who has previously voiced his support for the bill.
HB321 allows for a total of 8 dispensary licenses to be granted throughout the state – 3 on Oahu, 2 on Maui, 2 on the Big Island, and 1 on Kauai. Each license allows for 2 production sites (limited to 3,000 plants) and 2 dispensaries. The Department of Health, pending the passage of the bill, will accept applications between January 11th and 29th, 2016, along with a $5,000 nonrefundable application fee. Recipients of the licenses are set to be announced on April 15th, 2016, and the first dispensaries in Hawaii could open on July 15th, 2016.
Dispensaries would be required to pay a one-time fee of $75,000 for a license and $50,000 per year to renew it. No dispensary will be allowed within 750 feet of a playground, school or public housing complex, and would require an alarm system, security cameras, and computer system for inventory tracking. Since federal funding for medical marijuana is illegal, all facets of business must be done entirely in cash.
Opponents of the bill, primarily members of law enforcement, parent groups, anti-drug activists and religious organizations, have cited concerns about minors having increased access to marijuana, noting that it may “promote irresponsible sexual behavior,” among other things. Umm… err… say whaa?! Pass on promiscuous grass, kids.
Harry Kubojiri, Police Chief of the Hawaii Police Department, has recommended that dispensary owners be licensed healthcare providers and Hawaii residents, and anyone working at a production center or dispensary may not have a felony on their record. He also suggests that marijuana be tested for its potency, a regulation adopted into HB321.
Public education, he notes, is a critical element of the success of the proposed law.
Proponents of the bill note that medical marijuana patients will finally have a simple, safe and legal way to access marijuana, and many patients who are unable to grow their own (or designate a ‘caregiver’ to do so) will finally have an outlet to buy it outside of the black market.
Whatever happens, 2015 will surely be an important year for marijuana legislation in Hawaii. What are your thoughts about the situation? Please let us know in the comments below, and as always, mahalo for reading.