The two-and-one-half year wait is finally over for medical cannabis patients living on the Big Island of Hawaii, more accurately known as Hawai‘i Island. For the 6,659 registered medical marijuana cardholders, this is a day for the history books.
Big Island Grown opened in Hilo, and is the first medical marijuana dispensary operating on the largest island in the United States.
With the line halfway around the building by the time Big Island Grown Dispensary opened, patients shared in their excitement and relief to finally have safe, reliable access to high-quality medical marijuana. When the doors opened at 11 a.m., only the first 30 patients in line were welcomed inside.
Aaron Townsend, of Ainaloa, was the first customer to purchase medical marijuana in Hilo. Townsend, who suffers from chronic back pain, has held a medical marijuana card for seven years.
First to receive approval to begin operating after a final inspection by the state Department of Health, Big Island Grown is rising to the challenge of providing exceptional product and service to patients.
“It’s been a great learning experience,” said Dylan Shropshire, the company’s new chief executive officer. “With getting the license and really understanding what’s necessary to roll out the proper infrastructure and production and retail locations so you can follow the law and get properly controlled and tested medication to patients.”
Variety Is Important
Announcing that there will be 100 strains available to patients throughout the next year, only four different strains were offered at the grand opening. Patients were also able to purchase tinctures and edibles.
Ryan Jones has been a cardholding patient for five years, and until now he has only had access to whatever nameless strain his “friend” is able to supply at the time. “I know my friend’s stuff is cheaper, but sometimes it isn’t as good,” Jones said. “The wider variety of options at Big Island Grown might be worth the higher price.”
Two more Big Island Grown locations are expected to open later this month on Hawai‘i Island. One will be in Waimea and the other will be in Kona.
This may be the first retailer on the biggest of the Hawaiian Islands, but dispensaries have already been serving patients on Maui since August of 2018.
Harrelson has a long history as a cannabis advocate. For 13 years, he has participated in the advisory board for NORML, an advocacy group supporting cannabis legalization.
To meet Hawaii’s application requirements, Harrelson had to show that he possesses $1 million in cash plus $100,000 per dispensary. He also had to prove that he has been legally residing in the Aloha State for five years or more.
Although Hawaii legalized medical marijuana more than 15 years ago, the state has not provided a legal way for program participants to obtain it. Only last April did the state introduce legislation to legalize a retail market. While 66 applications were submitted to The Hawaii State Department of Health, the state will only issue a total of 16 dispensary licenses.
In addition, Hawaii offers tax breaks by rewarding businesses who operate in financially depressed areas, but lawmakers are scrambling to close this loophole to dispensary owners.
“We need to fix this,”
said Rep. Della Au Bellati in an interview with The Associated Press. “We need those general funds, because this program is going to take resources.”
Patients who register with their state’s medical cannabis program typically become, literally, card carrying members. What many do not realize is that some states recognize the registrations of those from outside areas, something that is called reciprocity. While most states do not recognize out-of-state medical cannabis exemptions or qualifications, a few do. Of these, there are important differences of which millions of traveling patients should be aware.
The medical cannabis laws of most states do not allow reciprocity for one simple reason: It invites scrutiny by federal authorities, specifically those in the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA. The Justice Department is home to the DEA and exercises oversight for interstate commerce. It therefore has a vested concern to ensure that diversion (legal cannabis being delivered to illegal recipients) and other fraudulent activity is not involved. The issue becomes only more complex based on the fact that medical, and even recreational, cannabis is legal in some states, but all forms of cannabis are illegal at the federal level.
The federal government categorizes cannabis as Schedule I, meaning it is officially as “dangerous and addictive” as heroin and bath salts. In fact, both cocaine and methamphetamines, two truly addictive drugs that nearly any medical professional will testify are more dangerous than cannabis, both reside in less-restrictive Schedule II; they can even be prescribed by a physician.
Possession vs. Purchase
Four states with medical cannabis laws on the books allow visitors to legally possess and consume cannabis (within limits), but do not provide safe access via dispensaries to the medicine or related products (like concentrates, edibles, tinctures, and topicals).
States allowing registered patients from out-of-state to possess cannabis include:
New Hampshire: Visiting patients are permitted to possess and consume cannabis, but cannot purchase or grow the herb.
Arizona: Card-carrying patients from other states are permitted to possess and use cannabis, but not purchase it.
Michigan: Visiting patients may possess and use. If driving with cannabis, the herb must be stored in a case in a locked trunk of the vehicle.
Rhode Island: Like similar states, visiting qualifying patients may use and possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis, but cannot purchase from dispensaries in the state.
There are three states that practice full reciprocity and will legally allow, under certain circumstances, out-of-state patients to make purchases at licensed dispensaries. This is a way for those suffering a debilitating disease or condition, especially those who must medicate daily, to obtain medicine when they are traveling. It is not recommended that patients attempt to carry cannabis through an airport or on a flight. While many are successful, the legal ramifications in some states — or from federal authorities — simply are not worth the risk for the average patient.
It is legal for any patient possessing a valid medical cannabis card, from any state, to purchase, possess, and consume cannabis products at Nevada dispensaries. In fact, because reciprocity is practiced by so few states in the U.S., Nevada may become a destination for patients in other states who wish to vacation or meet business clients, but don’t desire to — or simply can’t — go without their medicine for the duration of their travel.
In Nevada, reciprocity is fairly straightforward. At their first dispensary visit, patients from out-of-state are asked to sign an affidavit testifying that they are currently a valid patient in another state. In addition, traveling patients are restricted to that initial dispensary for one month. Because most travelers, especially those vacationing in Las Vegas, will be staying a considerably shorter period of time than a month (a two to seven day span is more common), they are limited to a single dispensary for that particular trip. Las Vegas is significant, especially considering that 40 million people travel there each year (that’s the entire population of California, the most populous state in the nation).
Thus, patients visiting Las Vegas or Reno should be careful when selecting their initial dispensary. If their next trip to the Silver State is more than 30 days in the future, they will then be able to shop at the dispensary of their choice. Some have pondered if Nevada will pass recreational legalization via a ballot initiative in November 2016. If it does, Las Vegas could become the Amsterdam of the United States, being America’s legal adult playground for more than merely gambling and big-dollar magic acts.
The fact that Nevada is risking federal scrutiny to do what is best for patients is both relatively novel among states that have enacted medical cannabis laws, but also within the theme of Nevada’s tourism. If there are three states that understand the economic and cultural benefits of a robust tourism industry, it is Nevada, Colorado, and California. This spirit is finally being expressed within state laws affecting medical cannabis patients.
In Hawaii, patients from the mainland must simply register with the state. None of the details of this program are available, however, due to the fact that it will not go into effect until January 1, 2018. Patients traveling to this classic vacation destination of perfect temperatures and gorgeous beaches must remain patient for their opportunity to spend a few days in paradise while also remaining medicated to reduce or eliminate pain and nausea or deliver relief from inflammation-based diseases such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, and even cancer.
Maine requires that the recommending physician of visiting patients submit a form that testifies to the patient’s condition and eligibility in their home state. Visiting patients may designate a caregiver or dispensary in Maine, but not both. Surprisingly — in what seems to be an effort to accommodate those who relocate to Maine, not just visitors or vacationers — patients can have their doctor petition for their right to cultivate up to six mature plants.
Thus, patients who qualify for their home state’s medical cannabis program may visit or move to Maine and immediately request, via their recommending doctor, legal permission to consume and even cultivate cannabis.
Federal legality would eliminate the need for states to practice reciprocity in their recognition of registered medical cannabis patients from fellow states. However, this isn’t something that is on the political horizon in Washington, D.C. and a popular topic in Congress. Until true progress is made on Capitol Hill, patients will have to rely upon the handful of states that officially recognize the programs of those outside their own borders.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii since 2000, and 15 years later, patients will soon have safe, reliable access to medication. A bill which creates Hawaii’s first medical marijuana dispensary licensing system became law Wednesday, July 15 at midnight, with the signature of Governor David Ige’s.
Gov. Ige reported:
“I support the establishment of dispensaries to ensure that qualified patients can legally and safely access medical marijuana.”
A deadline of January 4, 2016 has been set for the Hawaii Department of Health to organize and finalize the rules and regulations for the system. Gov. Ige has stated that the goal of Jan. 4 is “aggressive.” Ige spoke on the timeline of Act 241:
“We will make a good faith effort to create a fair process that will help the people most in need.”
There has been no set pricing guidelines in the new law, but people with knowledge of the state economy have placed initial predictions between $200 and $300 per ounce.
A merit-based application process, which is expected to be very competitive, will begin in January 2016. Only eight licenses will be awarded, and each license holder will be allowed to open two dispensaries.
Registered patients will be able to buy up to eight ounces per month. Current estimations predict around 13,000 medical marijuana cardholders living in Hawaii.
The law will prohibit counties from passing zoning regulations that discriminate against licensed production centers and licensed dispensaries. It will also allow for transportation of medical marijuana legal in public places by qualified patients, caregivers, or members of the medical marijuana job landscape.
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