HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii now has eight licensed medical cannabis dispensaries.
On their websites and advertising, many of the dispensaries tout the plant’s therapeutic and beneficial properties.
The state Health Department, which administers the medical cannabis registry program, said there were 24,070 valid registered medical cannabis users in Hawaii as of Jan. 31.
However, people with HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, glaucoma or lupus accounted for less than 3 percent of the total.
The vast majority — 20,426 — said they were using the drug for “severe pain.”
“Just about anybody can go in and see a doctor and say, ‘I’ve got severe pain,’” said state Rep. John Mizuno, a member of the House Health Committee and part of a working group in the legislature studying medical cannabis.
Mizuno is wondering whether prescriptions for medical cannabis are being handed out too easily.
“That’s what we did with opioid abuse,” he said. “We tracked which doctors were giving out high (numbers of prescriptions).”
In fact, Hawaii allows nurse practitioners to diagnose cannabis patients. And most dispensaries are eager to help prospective patients get their cannabis card.
But the executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii isn’t surprised.
“Pain is all too common in our society, so these numbers make sense,” said Carl Bergquist, of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii. “In fact, with more education, access and awareness we expect them to keep increasing. We want patients to comply with the law and grow their own or to purchase the safe and tested products from the dispensaries. Far too many patients suffer in silence or rely on more powerful and addictive drugs.”
Bergquist also said, “Ideally, a health care professional should be able to certify any person, regardless of specific condition, for the use of medical cannabis if the benefits outweigh the risks.”
Meanwhile, the Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii said it isn’t against medical cannabis, and added that it could be useful in treating some symptoms.
However, it believes kids are now getting what it thinks is the wrong message after growing up learning about the dangers of cigarettes.
“Kids got that message, but they’re seeing marijuana as medicine or as something good for you, so they’re trying that or experimenting with that instead,” said coalition Executive Director Greg Tjapkes.
Bergquist also believes that more advertising should be allowed for medical cannabis.
“The law and rules regarding advertising are already too restrictive," he said. "Rather than protecting kids, we believe this harms potential patients who use unregulated medicine or are not even familiar with the option of medical cannabis.”
The Hawaii Democratic Party had supported legalization of recreational marijuana as a top priority for this year, but a measure to do that died in the legislature.
However, the state House is scheduled to act on a measure to decriminalize some marijuana-related offenses.
The state Health Department is also scheduled to announce a new process for out-of-state medical cannabis users to obtain the cannabis from local retailers, and unveil a new electronic registration card for valid users.