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Hawaii Legislature Approves Bill to License Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Hawaii Legislature Approves Bill to License Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

The Hawaii Department of Health may soon be accepting applications for medical marijuana dispensary licenses in the Aloha State.

House Bill 321 was recently passed by the full House. Previously passed by the Senate, this proposal will establishes regulations for licensing eight dispensaries in Hawaii. Three licenses will be awarded on Oahu, two on Big Island, two on Maui, and one on Kauai.

The bill now awaits a decision from the Governor. If approved, the bill would allow up to a total of 16 dispensaries and production sites, as each license allows for two dispensaries and two production sites. Those wishing to apply for licenses would be able to submit applications between Jan. 11–29, 2016, and could open for business as early as July 2016. Applications must be submitted with a non-refundable fee of $5,000. Once awarded a license, each licensee must pay $75,000 to be official, and it would cost $50,000 per year to renew.

It has been 15 years since the state legalized medical marijuana, and some, like Republican Sen. Sam Slom, agree this can’t come soon enough. Slom said,

“We should have done this much earlier, it should have been much sooner.”

Over the last 15 years in which medical marijuana has been legal, patients have only been allowed to cultivate their own plants. These restrictions forced many patients, who don’t have the resources to cultivate at home, to turn to the black market in order to purchase good quality medical marijuana.

The House Health Committee Chair, Rep. Della Au Belatti, supports the bill, and explained,

“This is legislation that is much needed … we’re closing the loop in addressing patient needs in a very responsible way.”

The bill closely follows recommendations authored by Rep. Belatti as part of a state-commissioned task force.

Though passed by both the House and Senate, the bill still faces a great deal of opposition. In a recent conversation with KHON2, city prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro argued,

“Allowing distribution of marijuana without stringent safeguards could encourage criminal elements and jeopardize public safety.”

The propagation of criminal activity is among the concerns of those opposing the bill, as is the path toward legalized recreational use.

Language in the bill includes stipulations to discourage criminal activity and prohibits dispensaries from existing within 750 feet of schools, playgrounds or housing projects. For the most part, lawmakers feel that this legislation is a positive step toward improving the current system, as it will provide patients with access to quality-controlled medical marijuana.

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