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‘Medical cannabis’ measures await governor’s signature

The term “medical marijuana” could soon be scrubbed clean from state law and replaced instead with the phrase “medical cannabis.”

Lawmakers passed a bill this year that requires the state to make the change in state statutes, Hawaii Administrative Rules and in all state Department of Health documents, websites and medical marijuana program materials. The bill is awaiting approval by Gov. David Ige.

Supporters of Senate Bill 786, introduced by state Sen. Mike Gabbard, D-Oahu, say the word cannabis is most appropriate and accurate. Bill language says the word marijuana “carries prejudicial implications rooted in racial stereotypes” from the early 20th century, when the drug first was criminalized in the United States.

The bill garnered support from the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, the Community Alliance on Prisons and other groups.

If Ige signs SB 786, or allows it to pass without his signature, the DOH has until December 2019 to make the switch. Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said in an email that duty will fall on existing staff and “no additional funds will be used to make the change.”

The change will appear on application and address forms, website content, registration cards, stationery, business cards, contracts and other materials.

Lawmakers also recently passed House Bill 1488, an omnibus measure that aims to mitigate a delay in implementation of the state’s marijuana dispensary system.

The DOH awarded licenses last year to eight companies to open Hawaii’s first dispensaries. Since then, none of the licensees has begun operating, despite technically being able to do so as of last July.

At least part of the delay stems from a lack of state-approved testing labs. Law requires any marijuana sold at a dispensary to be tested in a state-certified lab. Statewide, three labs submitted applications to become certified, but none have been given the OK.

Okubo said, however, all three labs are “on track to meet certification requirements.”

Lau Ola, a company led by former banana farmer Richard Ha, and Hawaiian Ethos, led by venture capitalist Bill Richardson, were selected to open Hawaii Island’s first dispensaries. Neither has requested approval to begin growing, Okubo said.

“As I understand, they are still working on setting up their production sites,” she said.

Despite none of the dispensaries being up and operating, each had to pay a $50,000 license renewal fee in April.

Last year, each paid $75,000 to obtain their license. That followed a nonrefundable $5,000 fee to apply and a requirement to show proof of having at least $1 million in the bank, plus an additional $100,000 in reserves for each desired retail location.

HB 1488, if approved by Ige, also would:

• Expand the list of conditions to qualify as a medical marijuana patient to include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

• Increase the number of plants a patient and caregiver can jointly possess from seven to 10.

• Allow patients and caregivers access to state-certified labs in order to get marijuana tested.

• Extend various deadlines, including extending the caregiver program to cease by 2023 instead of 2018, as it was previously set to end. Amendments also establish that after 2023, a single marijuana-growing location can only be used by a maximum of five patients.

• Delay the date DOH can begin awarding more dispensary licenses to October 2018 rather than October 2017 as previously stated. Under new amendments, the DOH is directed to take into consideration whether a prospective new licensee applicant is capable of serving and supplying marijuana to patients in a rural or underserved area.

• Give the DOH discretion to allow a licensee to grow up to 5,000 marijuana plants at a single production center. Currently, licensees are allowed to grow up to 3,000 plants per grow center.

• Give the DOH discretion to allow a licensee to open up to three retail store locations. Currently, each licensee is allowed two retail stores and two grow centers. Whether a licensee is allowed more would be contingent on their capability to serve rural or underserved areas.

• Allow for a temporary backup system for tracking and monitoring dispensary sales data if the state’s current computer software tracking system is not functioning properly.

• Require licensees to retain video security recordings for at least 50 days.

• Require the DOH to consider — when setting lab testing standards — guidelines used in other jurisdictions, product cost to patients, benefits of organically grown marijuana, among other things.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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