Hawaii Bill Pushes Big Changes To Medical Marijuana Program

By Paul Gaita 04/05/18

A Hawaii measure could offer non-resident and resident patients additional access to medical marijuana programs.

doctor holding medical marijuana

Non-residents with medical marijuana cards that live in Hawaii may soon be able to purchase cannabis from state dispensaries. That's the goal of House Bill 2729, which passed the state's Senate Committee on Ways and Means on March 29.

If the Hawaii House of Representatives approves the measure, the bill will address a growing number of requests for access to the state's medical marijuana program by non-residents, and also allow Hawaii residents to purchase medical marijuana out of state—a scenario that could have far-ranging financial benefits for both Hawaii and the other 49 states.

However, the lag time between approval of such purchases as part of a reciprocity law passed in January, and the passage of this bill, may mean delays for non-residents to access their portion of the state's medical marijuana.

As High Times noted, HB 2729 would create a program by which non-residents would be able to buy half of what is allowed for Hawaii residents at one of the state's licensed dispensaries.

Non-residents would also have to pay a $45 state registration fee to the Hawaii Department of Health. In turn, the reciprocity program would allow Hawaii residents to purchase medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries while in other states. 

The bill earned the support of HEALTH, a trade organization that represents the state's eight licensed dispensaries. In testimony submitted to the Ways and Means Committee, the organization stated that HB 2729 would "enhance the medical cannabis dispensary program with additional patient access, product controls and safety, and provide improvements to the administration of the program."

HEALTH also recommended the purchase limit included in the bill, which it said would "help to minimize the concern about an out-of-state patient obtaining a large quantity of product."

Availability and other issues regarding the reciprocity program has generated considerable consumer interest since it was approved in January.

Teri Gorman, director of community relations and patient affairs at Maui Grown Therapies, said that her facility has received more than 150 email inquires and more than 300 phone calls about the program from out-of-state patients in the past four months. Many of these individuals mentioned medical issues as the motivation for their interest, including cancer and chemotherapy, severe pain and end-of-life care.

"Compassion dictates that Hawaii develop a program to serve visiting patients without further delay," said Gorman. But chronic and terminally ill individuals may still have to wait for their access cards along with everyone else; as High Times opined, the delay between approval of the program and passage of the bill may result in a waiting period while all of the permits are reviewed.

If that happens, the slowdown may be the latest in a series of problems incurred by Hawaii's medical marijuana program; in August, the state-licensed dispensary on the island of Maui was forced to close because demand for cannabis far exceeded its supply.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.