Medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii for nearly 15 years, and now lawmakers in Hawaii are one step closer to authorizing medical marijuana dispensaries.
House Bill 321, which would establish a state-regulated system of dispensaries but was feared dead last week, cleared a final committee hurdle on Monday, sending the bill to the full legislature, where it is expected to pass.
Currently, patients enrolled in Hawaii’s medical marijuana program must either grow their own cannabis, or purchase it on the black market. Under the proposed bill, dispensaries could begin operating as soon as July 2016.
House Bill 321 has been on a roller coaster ride in the legislature since being introduced in January, shortly after a special task force recommended lawmakers pass such a measure.
Lawmakers in the House first approved the measure in March, sending it to the Senate for consideration. Once there, the bill was amended several times before being approved by the Senate in April.
But negotiators from both chambers were unable to reach a compromise in committee between the two versions of the bill before last Friday’s conference committee deadline, and the bill was feared dead.
However, leaders from both chambers waived the rules imposing the deadline, giving the conference committee a final chance to create a proposal that would be acceptable to both chambers.
The Senate President also took the unusual step of removing Senator Josh Green from the negotiating panel and appointing Senator Will Espero as the new chair. Sen. Green had refused to accept part of the House’s version of the bill that called for dispensary licenses to be given out based on merit. Green insisted on a first come, first served system instead.
Under the latest version of the bill, up to eight dispensary licences will issued statewide. Each licence would allow the business to open two dispensaries and two cultivation sites. Three licences would be issued to businesses located on Oahu, two on Maui, two on Big Island, and one on Kauai.
The bill would also reciprocity for medical marijuana patients from other states, who would be allowed to purcahse and possess medical marijuana while vacationing in Hawaii. That provision would take effect on January 1, 2018.
Also under the proposal, Hawaii’s current system of caregivers would be phased out by late 2018. Caregivers would no longer be able to cultivate for registered patients unless they are on an island without a dispensary; or if they are cultivating for a minor.
The bill will now be sent to the floor of both chambers for a final vote. Both chambers are expected to vote on the bill Thursday, and is the measure is expected to be easily approved in both houses. Governor David Ige, who has indicated his support, is expected to sign the bill.