HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - There are more than 12,000 medical marijuana users in Hawaii. The state was one of the first to legalize pot for patients in 2000, but 14 years later, users still have limited access.
"They have to either grow it themselves -- which many physically can't do, or they have to get it illegally," says Brittany Neal, a member of the Alternative Pain Management Club in Hilo. Neal is also a Registered Nurse.
Mike Ruggles runs the Alternative Pain Management Club. He takes medical marijuana for arthritis, "Look at my arms, they're kind of funny looking," says Ruggles as he stretches out both arms. The joints are crooked and seem out of place.
Everyone in the club has a 'card', showing a doctor has told them to try medical marijuana for a health condition. The 'cards' are issued by the state.
Ruggles grows his own prescription pot. His nursery boats plants as tall and full as Christmas trees. He's only allowed to grow a certain number of plants for himself, and is allowed to grow for one other patient.
But what club members really want is a dispensary, or pharmacy, where anyone with a 'card' can get their medical marijuana. And they want it offered in various forms, "Different pain requires different treatment," says Neal.
Some club members use a cannabis cream or lotion for skin problems, others blend the leaves to make smoothies, some bake it in their food, but most, smoke it.
"If you have cancer and can't take the smoke or ingest the marijuana, you have options," says an unidentified club member.
There are more than a dozen bills in the state legislature that deal with the issue. Senator Will Espero sponsors one of them.
"These bills will help strengthen the laws so that individuals will have better access," says Espero.
But many of the bills haven't been heard yet.
Espero says laws are also needed to better regulate medical marijuana. Something even law enforcement want. Currently, the product can range in THC content and there's no defined dose, making it difficult for police.
"Unlike a drug like Vicodin," says Keith Kamita, Chief of the State's Narcotics Enforcement Division, "a doctor tells you take one pill every four hours," he says. Kamita says the medical marijuana on the black market could also be full of toxins.
Senator Espero agrees that any new laws need to be clearly defined and any pharmacy would be tightly controlled.
The Senate bills also deal with the issue of transfer stations. Right now, if Ruggles has a surplus of product, he can't give it to other patients or sell it, that would be a felony. He says he's even tried to turn in excess to police.
"I called them and said I have 50 pounds too much medical marijuana ... they said ... don't you bring that down here, you bring one joint and we'll bust you... we've called everybody what do you do with too much medical marijuana?"
While the bills are still in the initial stages, there are changes happening soon. The Department of Health will take over the medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety next year.