Interisland medical cannabis transport bill back

  • A marijuana plant is seen at Compassionate Care Foundation's medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., in 2019. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

A measure authorizing qualifying patients to transport medical cannabis between islands for personal use that was passed by the 2019 Legislature and subsequently vetoed by Gov. David Ige is back before lawmakers.

Senate Bill 241 would amend state law to allow for a qualifying in-state or out-of-state patient to transport cannabis between the islands for personal medical use. A measure to do just that was passed by the 2019 Legislature, however, Ige vetoed the measure, under the rationale that marijuana, including medical cannabis, remains illegal under federal law.

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“Both the airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. This bill may lead travelers, acting in reliance on this provision, to erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution,” the governor said in his intent to veto.

The new measure was co-introduced in the 2021 Legislature on Jan. 22 by Sen. Joy San Buenaventura (D-Puna, Ka‘u) and Oahu Democratic Sens. Donna Mercado Kim and Chris Lee with co-sponsorship by Oahu Democratic Sens. Jarrett Keohokalole and Maile Shimabukuro. After passing a first reading on the Senate floor, it was referred to a joint committee on Health and Transportation followed by the Judiciary Committee.

The measure was taken up Wednesday by the joint committee on Health and Transportation. Ten individuals or groups testified in support of the measure while a handful of state offices and departments offered testimony opposing the bill’s passage.

Testifying against SB 241 were the state Office of the Attorney General, and the departments of Public Safety and Transportation. Each iterated that under federal law, the possession and transportation of marijuana, including medical cannabis, is illegal. The Department of Health said it supports access to medical cannabis and protections for patients, but deferred to the Attorney General and Department of Public Safety.

Testimony in support of the measure pointed to the bill creating equity for medical cannabis users across the state, as well as the need for patients to have access to their medicine.

“Right now, the only dispensaries are on Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui and Kauai, so the people who are suffering on Molokai and Lanai and Niihau have no way to access medicine from the dispensary and that’s why we support this,” said Community Alliance on Prisons Coordinator Kat Brady.

Oahu Akamai Cannabis Clinic Dr. Clifton Otto said patients need to transport medicine to ensure no disruption or change in dosage/strength.

“They’re not able to necessarily go to a dispensary on another island and find a product that will be effective for them,” he said. “This is especially true for patients producing their own cannabis medicine.”

Big Island Grown Dispensaries CEO Jaclyn L. Moore, Pharm.D., in written testimony seconded that opinion, noting the “inability to legally travel inter-island with their cannabis medicine while receiving medical care on other islands can be disruptive to their treatment, and progress. Inter-island transport of cannabis for personal use should be a basic right of a qualifying patient.”

Following no discussion or amendments, the measure passed both committees with Oahu Republican Sen. Kurt Favella, who sits on both committees, voting yes with reservations. Sen. Lorraine Inouye was excused from the transportation committee vote.

The bill next needs to secure a hearing before the Committee on Judiciary to remain alive.

Chair Jarrett Keohokalole in recommending the committee on health pass the measure noted Ige’s previous veto, but pointed to a possible change in the federal government’s stance on cannabis.

“We have a new federal administration that is likely to have a different policy as it relates to cannabis, especially as the industry and medical cannabis, in general, have changed so drastically over the last several years nationally,” he said.

According a January article by The Washington Post, Joe Biden, as president, could oversee broad changes in federal drug policy, including how the government and law enforcement agencies view drug addiction and treatment and classify the use of marijuana. That’s despite Biden previously not supporting federal legalization of marijuana for recreational use, including while on the campaign trail, citing concerns it could be a “gateway drug.”

During the general election campaign, however, Biden said the drug should be decriminalized and that individual states should decide whether to legalize it for recreational use. Marijuana since 1970 has been classified federally as a Schedule I narcotic for having “no currently acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, 15 states have legalized personal use of marijuana, while 36 others have approved some form of medicinal marijuana use.

As of Sunday, Hawaii had 31,077 valid in-state medical cannabis program patients, up from 27,393 a year ago. A county-by-county breakdown was not available for the month as of Thursday, however, at the end of 2020, Hawaii County reported 7,951 patients, according to the Department of Health.

The first of Hawaii Island’s eight medical cannabis dispensaries opened in January 2019, providing patients in Hawaii County a legal way to purchase the drug for the first time since 2000 when Hawaii legalized medical cannabis. The state legalized dispensaries in 2015.

Related bills

More than a dozen other medical cannabis-related bills have been introduced this legislative session. They include:

• Senate Bill 145, which would authorize the manufacture and distribution of cannabis seeds and cannabis clones by medical cannabis dispensary licensees, was combined with Senate Bill 254, which would allow dispensaries to distribute cannabis propagules and cuttings to authorized patients and caregivers, and was passed with amendments, including a cap on the number of clones or cuttings. It next needs to secure a hearing before the Committee on Judiciary.

• Senate Bill 629, which would allow primary caregivers and qualifying out-of-state patients to enter restricted areas within a medical cannabis retail dispensary, was passed with amendments. It next needs to secure a hearing before the Committee on Judiciary.

• Senate Bill 1139, which seeks to increase the patient registration fee by $10 starting in 2022, from the current $35 for in-state patients and $45 for out-of-state patients, was passed with amendments. The measure would also fund three full-time positions via the medical cannabis registry and regulation special fund. It next needs to secure a hearing before the Committee on Ways and Means. A companion bill in the House, HB 985, has yet to be scheduled for the first of three committee hearings.

• House Bill 477, which would increase the allowable number of production centers and retail dispensing locations per dispensary license and authorize the Department of Health to allow a licensed dispensary to purchase medical cannabis or manufactured cannabis products from another licensed dispensary to ensure ongoing qualified patient access, will be taken up by the House Committee on Health, Human Services and Homelessness today. A companion bill in the Senate, SB 1332, has yet to be scheduled for the first of two committee hearings.

• House Bill 482, which would authorize dispensaries to distribute cannabis propagules and cuttings to individuals authorized to cultivate cannabis plants for medical use, will also be taken up today by the Health, Human Services and Homelessness committee. A companion bill in the Senate, SB 481, has yet to be scheduled for the first of two committee hearings.

• Senate Bill 253, which would permit qualifying patients to be reimbursed by health insurers, mutual benefit societies, and health maintenance organizations for amounts spent on medical cannabis products. The measure has yet to be scheduled for the first of two committee hearings.

• Senate Bill 64 would prohibits some employers from discriminating against a person in hiring, termination, or term or condition of employment based on the person’s status as a medical cannabis cardholder. The measure has yet to be scheduled for the first of two committee hearings.

• Senate Bill 1272, which would give naturopathic physicians the same authority as physicians and advanced practice registered nurses to provide written certifications to qualified patients for the medical use of cannabis, has yet to be scheduled for the first of two committee hearings.

• Senate Bill 1372 would create a cultivation facility license to allow cultivators to grow cannabis for sale to licensed dispensaries. It has yet to be scheduled for the first of two committee hearings.

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• House Bill 667 would authorize the Department of Health to issue medical cannabis delivery permits and medical cannabis transporter licenses for the delivery of medical cannabis, increase the allowable number of retail dispensing locations and cannabis plants per dispensary license, and permit a licensed dispensary to purchase medical cannabis or manufactured cannabis products from another licensed dispensary. The measure has yet to be scheduled for the first of three committee hearings.

• House Bill 751 would require qualifying patients obtain medical cannabis products from certain authorized sources effective this year, limiting to five the number of patients that cultivate cannabis at a single site and prohibit at the end of this year primary caregivers from cultivating cannabis for any qualifying patient. The measure has yet to be scheduled for the first of three committee hearings.

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