Medical marijuana patients sound off

Medical marijuana patients told a legislative task force Wednesday evening in Hilo they want a safe, legal, economical way to procure their cannabis.

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Medical marijuana patients told a legislative task force Wednesday evening in Hilo they want a safe, legal, economical way to procure their cannabis.

About 60 attended the first public hearing of the Medical Marijuana Dispensary System Task Force chaired by state Rep. Della Au Belatti, an Oahu Democrat, at the Aupuni Center. None testified against the state setting up medical marijuana dispensaries, although some expressed a preference for cooperatives and others said they want to keep the present system of caregivers intact, as well.

The state legalized marijuana for medical use by licensed patients with chronic, debilitating conditions in 2000, but did not set up a legal way for patients to procure marijuana, other than to allow certified patients and licensed caregivers to grow small quantities. Previous bills to create dispensaries didn’t pass legislative muster.

“Hawaii … does not provide legal means for me to procure seeds, propagation materials or plants without breaking state and federal laws,” said Brenda Cloutier, who said she has fibromyalgia, a painful neurological disorder. “There is no other controlled pharmaceutical or herbal medication available in this state. That forces the patient to break the law to obtain their medicine.”

Cloutier added taxation of medical marijuana should be at the same rate as prescription and over-the-counter medications.

“Please don’t try to balance the state budget on the backs of the sick and disabled,” she said.

Marijuana activist Mike Ruggles said lawmakers “have been trying to fix” the medical marijuana program since 2000.

“I believe there’s been over 250 bills that crashed on the rocks of legislation in the last 14 years,” he said. “… If you have over 1,000 plants in whatever dispensary you have, that’s a federal offense. And no matter what you guys say or what the state says, the feds can say differently and that can be a problem. So please consider that when you’re thinkin’ about the size of dispensaries.”

Ruggles also said plans for 10 dispensaries statewide isn’t enough, and will create lines outside waiting to buy marijuana.

Mike Aiello said he believes medical marijuana can “reinvigorate the local economy and create jobs.”

“We have over 13,000 medical cannabis patients statewide,” he said. “If we assume seven plants per patient, that’s over 91,000 plants statewide for a crop at this very moment. … if we have caregivers who are providing care for 25 patients, we can have 520 caregivers serving all the entire stock of patients in the state of Hawaii.”

One testifier who identified himself as a California dispensary owner echoed Ruggles’ sentiments that 10 dispensaries isn’t enough for demand. He said San Jose, with a population comparable to Oahu’s, has 80 dispensaries with plans for more.

“If you have 10 dispensaries, you will create instant millionaires,” he said. He advocated for cooperatives and farmer’s markets, saying super-dispensaries “will bring the prices up.”

“It’s gonna be very, very expensive and you’re still gonna have a black market,” he said.

Rep. Gregg Takayama, an Oahu Democrat, disagreed with the view expressed by the testifier and others.

“Several of you mentioned the importance of supporting small farmers, small producers, and several of you mentioned the fact that you are apprehensive of opening up to big corporations, big retailers,” he said. “There’s a little big of dichotomy there because big box retailers offer lower prices just because they’re big box, offer mass supply of certain products.”

Rep. Richard Creagan, a Naalehu Democrat and physician who’s not on the task force, opined “clearly marijuana is a medicine and it’s a very effective medicine” and posed a question to those in attendance.

“How many of you in here, if you had a choice for medical marijuana or just to legalize it, how many of you would want to legalize it in this state?” he queried, and most in the audience raised their hands.

“I think that’s clearly a choice, and we can legalize it as well as do the dispensary thing,” he said. “And when you look at other states, there are two states (Washington and Colorado) that have legalized it. We can look at them for guidance looking forward. But all this complication of dispensaries and all these rules and stuff and dealing with the police and other stuff, if you legalized it, you wouldn’t have those problems.”

Emailed testimony on dispensaries will be accepted until Sept. 17 at HCR48testimony@gmail.com.

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A Legislative Reference Bureau report on marijuana dispensaries is available online at http://www.publicpolicycenter.hawaii.edu/projects-programs/hcr48.html.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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