Medical pot pharmacies recommended to be in every Hawaii county by 2017

Published: Jan. 2, 2015 at 9:59 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 3, 2015 at 4:28 AM HST
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Medical marijuana advocates are hopeful they will finally have better access to their prescriptions without breaking the law.

The Medical Marijuana Task Force is recommending dispensaries be in every county in the state by 2017. Legislation based on the recommendations is now being drafted.

State Representative Della Au Belatti, Chair of the House Health Committee, oversees the task force, "For those patients who have been on the registry for 14 years, yes, it's time."

"They're obviously on the right track and we really feel like they're trying to do their job," says Mike Ruggles, a Big Island medical marijuana user and advocate for dispensaries.

There have been hundreds of bills dealing with pot pharmacies that have failed to go anywhere with lawmakers but the task force shows there is growing support for the idea.

Hawaii was the first to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2000 and Ruggles thinks it's ridiculous that state lawmakers haven't been able to agree on the issue of distribution, "Other states will legalize... and they'll have a dispensary set up within the year."

Ruggles also says current laws make it impossible for many people to get the various forms of the prescriptions legally.

One person on the task force, Jari Sugano, a mother to a five-year old who has multiple seizures every day. The girl's seizures can only be controlled with the help of a cannabis oil that Sugano had to learn to make herself. She says she is optimistic that lawmakers will come to terms on legislation.

Here are some of the recommendations:

*Department of Health begin offering licenses in January 2017

*Dispensaries open in July 2017

*At least one dispensary shall be available in each county

*Businesses shall be at least 500 feet of schools

*Sales shall be subject to the Hawaii General Excise Tax

Lawmakers will also be asked to appropriate $510-thousand dollars from the General Fund both in 2016 and 2017 to set up the program, which includes full time inspectors and auditors, but the money will be paid back through application and licensing fees.

Belatti says it was difficult for task force members to come up with a plan that satisfied everyone.

"Making sure we have the proper regulations in place, all the paperwork and that the businesses that are going to emerge from this, the dispensaries and the production centers, they also have to be strong, solid, business organizations," Belatti says.

Ruggles hopes it can be done sooner than the recommended 2017, he says patients have waited long enough, but Belatti says two years is reasonable.

The state legislative session reconvenes later this month and Belatti expects the bill to be introduced in the first few days.

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