Hawaii May Allow Tourists To Buy Medical Marijuana

Photo Credit: Anthony Quintano

Visitors who are allowed to use medical marijuana in their home states may soon be able to shop at Hawaii dispensaries.

That’s one of the proposals in three wide-ranging bills heard this week by the House and Senate health committees. Senate Bill 2718, House Bill 2729 and HB 2733 all address medical cannabis issues.

Visitors would need to register with the Health Department in order to ensure that their purchases do not exceed the legal limits. A photo ID, and a medical cannabis card or physician’s note recommending cannabis would be required.

“I think it’s incumbent on our state, being that tourism is our top industry, that we recognize our visitors who rely on their medication,” said Rep. John Mizuno, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

A visitor’s temporary registration would be valid for up to six months. That seems like an exceptionally long vacation, said Me Fuimaono-Poe, medical director of the Maile Cannabis Clinic.

In written testimony, the Health Department worried that the proposed visitor registration system “would place dispensaries in a conflict of interest position of self-validating patients to whom they would sell products.”

The department also was concerned that Hawaii patients’ access to cannabis may be threatened if dispensaries begin selling to out-of-staters. It cited news reports that dispensaries have run out of product in the past.

The bills would also increase tenfold the maximum amount of THC — the psychoactive chemical in marijuana — allowed in products such as cannabis oil.

And they’d allow people to schedule online medical consultations to become eligible for medial marijuana through “telehealth” services.

The bills would also:

•Allow dispensaries to manufacture and sell vaporizers for inhaling cannabis products.

•Allow the Health Department to accept a physician or advanced-practice nurse certification endorsing a patient’s use of medical cannabis for three years, if they have a chronic condition. Current certifications expire in one year.

•Allow the Health Department, upon receiving a subpoena, to disclose information to law enforcement agencies about dispensaries and their production centers.

•Exempt dispensary employees who don’t have access to cannabis plants or products from background checks.

The legislation came from recommendations drafted by a working group that met from October 2016 until January.

On Tuesday, SB 2718 was passed with amendments at a joint hearing of the Senate Committees on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health, and Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs.

Testimony on HB 2729 and HB 2733 was heard Wednesday by the House Committee on Housing and Human Services. Mizuno said a decision will be made on all cannabis bills Thursday at 11:30 a.m. in Capitol conference room 329.

The House committee also heard a separate bill to create an Office of Medical Cannabis Control and Regulation to aid patients and dispensaries. Dispensaries have criticized the Health Department, which currently oversees the medical cannabis program, for being slow to respond to concerns and problems.

“The state just hasn’t been doing a good job, so if we have this independent office … they can be more interactive and efficient,” Mizuno said.

About 20,000 patients are registered to use medical cannabis in Hawaii. Those numbers have steadily increased over the past several years. So far, two dispensaries each on Oahu and Maui are in business.

Edibles And Vaporizers

Mizuno told Civil Beat that he’s inclined to push for passage of the omnibus cannabis bills and the bill to create the medical cannabis office. He said he’s also considering amending one of the omnibus bills to allow dispensaries to manufacture and sell edibles.

Another wide-ranging cannabis bill, HB 2740, hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing yet. It would protect medical cannabis patients from being fired if they test positive for the drug, allow interisland medical cannabis transport, approve medical marijuana as a drug for use in workers’ compensation cases and allow patients to publicly consume cannabis (without smoking it).

It may not be realistic to pass that bill this year because it contains so many requests, Mizuno said.

Cannabis dispensaries and advocates wrote in testimony that the bills would resolve issues in the state’s dispensary law. The Health Department testified that it had some qualms about some of the proposals, but supported most of them.

Noa Botanicals, the second dispensary to open on Oahu, wrote in testimony on the omnibus bills that patient surveys indicate the top patient request is the use of a vaporizer pen or cannabis oil.

Allowing vaporizers would serve the needs of patients who don’t want their family members smelling smoke, testified Teri Gorman of Maui Grown Therapies at the Wednesday hearing.

Opposition And Worries

Fuimaono-Poe of the Maile Cannabis Clinic, told Civil Beat that she did not support the bills as currently written.

She felt the THC potency increase should be limited to topical products and vaporizer cartridges.

The THC dosage increase to 1,000 milligrams from 100 milligrams would be applicable to cannabis products sold in multi-packs or containers of oil infused with the drug, according to the bill.

The higher THC limit would also theoretically apply to edible products, which are currently prohibited from being sold in stores. Cannabis advocates have long pushed for the sale of “edibles.”

The Health Department supported increasing the maximum allowed THC content of certain cannabis products “as cost beneficial to dispensaries and patients.”

The telehealth provision of the bill contradicts a Hawaii law that states physicians can only recommend medical cannabis after an in-person consultation, the health department wrote in testimony. The Health Department said it would support that provision of the bill if the legal discrepancy is fixed.

Fuimaono-Poe said she’s used telehealth services at other jobs and they afford neighbor island residents more options. But the bill should state that only local medical cannabis clinics may offer telehealth services to Hawaii patients, she said.

“Telehealth is a good model, as long as patients have an avenue and a way for consistent follow-up if they need it,” Fuimaono-Poe said, adding that roughly a quarter of her patients have questions or requests after receiving their medical cannabis card.

Citing the federal law that lists cannabis as a top-tier, Schedule I drug alongside meth and heroin, the Health Department took issue with the proposed background check exemption for employees who don’t deal hands-on with cannabis.