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Early in 2015, Hawaii State Rep. Della Au Belatti, House Health Committee chairperson, announced plans to introduce legislation that would allow for medical marijuana dispensaries to be established in the Aloha State by 2017.

On February 17, HB 321, was approved by the House Committees on Health and Judiciary. It will now move to the House Committee on Finance for approval.

Lawmakers in Hawaii made history in 2000 as the first legislative body to legalize medical marijuana. Under current law, the 13,000 registered medical marijuana patients are permitted to cultivate at home, but many of them are too sick to grow their own medicine. Therefore, they are forced to acquire strains on the black market. After 15 years of legalized medical marijuana, patients in Hawaii still do not have safe, reliable access to medical marijuana.

Michelle Tippens (photo below) is one of Hawaii’s registered medical marijuana patients. Tippens was injured in a car accident, leaving her with a brain injury and multiple fractures in her spine.

medical marijuana hb321 hawaii

Tippens appeared at the committee meeting to share her story and show support as an example of why medical marijuana patients in Hawaii need distribution facilities. She explained that she was on more than one dozen different pharmaceutical medications after the tragic accident. Medical marijuana allowed her to quite taking the debilitating pills. She wore the bottles around her neck to make a statement.

Tippens told The State,

“In order to qualify for the card, you have to be really sick. And a lot of people who are really sick are not capable of cultivating marijuana.”

House Bill 321 would establish a system for regulating and licensing a total of 26 medical marijuana dispensaries. The bill states that any distribution facility must be located a minimum of 700 feet from schools, playgrounds and public housing. It also implements a seed-to-sale tracking system for all cannabis sold through a dispensary. It still permits patients to cultivate their own plants at home.

Opponents to the bill, like Rep. Bob McDermott (R-Ewa), are fearful that legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries may encourage use by young people, and lead to recreational legalization. However, the 2014 Harvard Public Opinion Project already proved that legalization is not encouraging use.

A similar Senate Bill proposal is also expected to have a joint committee hearing this week.

Find out how to become a registered medical marijuana patient in Hawaii here.

photo credit: marijuanagrowershq, the state

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