HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In recent years, state lawmakers have tried -- and failed -- to pass legislation on medical marijuana dispensaries. They're trying yet again this year, and supporters believe it may have a chance this time around.
Hawaii has allowed medical marijuana since 2000. There are currently 13,000 registered medical marijuana patients statewide, but there's till no way for them to legally obtain the drug unless they grow their own plants.
Members of a task force formed by last year's legislature say dispensaries will make it easier to obtain medical cannabis, and also control it.
"The dispensaries can check to ensure that the patient is still a registered patient, and could track the amount that the patient had purchased, so a patient couldn't go from one dispensary to another to another," Daniel Gluck of the ACLU told a joint hearing of the House Health and Judiciary committees.
Even some law enforcement officials, who have historically opposed such measures, agree.
"This is supposed to be medicine," said Hawaii County Police Chief Harry Kubojiri, another task force member. "We don't have those safety components built in to people that grow on their own, (and) the black market. And the dispensary was to make and to test for the purity, the levels of THC so it can help these patients."
Task force member Rafael Kennedy of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii told lawmakers that legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries was different from legalized recreational marijuana, which is currently allowed in Washington state and Colorado.
Alan Shinn of the Drug Free Coalition of Hawaii had concerns. "From a prevention point of view, we question whether marijuana is really medicine," he said. But he added that there are drugs being developed that uses CBD, the medicinal extract from marijuana, which could come in or three years. "Once that comes though, it's going to revolutionize how we see marijuana as a medicine."
Jari Sugano has been treating her five-year-old daughter's epileptic seizures with a cannabis oil that she had to learn to make herself. She, too, is a task force member, and thinks some compromises are being made to make dispensaries a reality.
"There are a number of parents that are looking into it, and the reality is that they can't grow their own. How are they going to navigate through the system? So I'm hoping the things that we do today will help pave the pathway so that other families don't have to go through what we're going through," said Sugano.
The house committees were scheduled to make a decision after the hearing, but have deferred it until Tuesday.