HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A bill to create a system of medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawaii cleared a huge hurdle on Monday. The measure seemed doomed last week, but patients celebrated after House and Senate negotiators finally approved the bill.
"What a roller coaster of emotions, this is the exact opposite. Now I'm ecstatic. I just can't imagine. We went from Friday to this. What a high," said medical marijuana patient Teri Heede.
The measure failed to advance out of the conference committee by Friday's deadline, prompting lawmakers to ask for a waiver to keep the bill alive. The Senate President also took the unusual step of removing Senator Josh Green from the negotiating panel and making Senator Will Espero the new chair.
"What we did was allowable under our legislative rules. It is not unprecedented. It is part of our process," Espero said.
Green refused to accept the House's version of the bill which called for dispensary licenses to be given out based on merit. He insisted on a first come, first served system instead.
"In states that have done it the other way, without a transparent process, there's litigation, there's really a lot of problems and that's not the way to do things. It really worries me that if we don't do things right out of the gate, we'll invite mainland corruption," said Green last week after the negotiations fell apart.
"We believe that many of those concerns are going to be addressed and really it's going to be the Department of Health as the regulators who understand health, welfare and safety," said Rep. Della Au Belatti,
Belatti said the bill maintains local control through legal residency requirements for individuals and entities interested in a dispensary license. The measure calls for a total of 8 licenses. Three would be for Oahu, two for Maui, two for the Big Island, and one for Kauai. Each license would allow for up to two retail locations.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii for 15 years, but many patients had no legal way to obtain the cannabis.
"We could only get the stuff through the black market so it's been that way for the last 15 years," said medical marijuana patient Keoni Ward.
The measure is expected to be easily approved in both houses and then signed by Governor David Ige, who has indicated his support.
HB321, CD1 would allow applications for licenses to be available in Hawaii starting in January 11, 2016. The Department of Health would select the licensees in March and the first dispensary could open as early as July 15, 2016. A $5,000 non-refundable fee would be required to apply for a license. An approved dispensary would pay a fee of $75,000 for a license, with a $50,000 annual renewal fee.
The measure requires all dispensary licensees and employees to be subject to a criminal and background check. It restricts medical marijuana dispensaries within 750 feet of a playground, public housing complex or school. The bill also authorizes licensed dispensaries to be subject to annual unannounced inspections of its operations by the DOH.
Reciprocity with patients from other states would start on January 1, 2018. Later that year, caregivers would no longer be able to cultivate for their registered patients unless they're on an island with no dispensary or they're cultivating for a minor.