Belatti on Medi-Marijuana dispensaries

After an informational briefing highlighted the medicinal values and outlined the path and roadblocks to implementation of marijuana dispensaries, Rep. Della Au Belatti calls for "steady, measured and reasonable dialogue" on the subject.

Will Caron

From Rep Belatti’s press release:

Honolulu, Hawaii –During an hour-long informational hearing on medical marijuana in the House yesterday, experts testified on its medicinal value and the issues related to establishing distribution centers, as the House contemplates legalizing a system of dispensaries for medical cannabis.

The speakers provided insight on a wide range of related issues, including the medical benefits of cannabis, the legal context on both state and federal levels, security and public safety, administrative rulemaking, and the experiences of other states and cities, as they dealt with the use and distribution of medical marijuana. Although medical cannabis is allowed in Hawaii for qualified patients certified by their physician, there are no legal outlets to purchase medical cannabis for patients. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have passed medical cannabis laws legalizing the use and production of medical cannabis for qualifying patients, according toThe Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), a national organization promoting drug policies.

Referring to House Speaker Joseph Souki’s call to legalize dispensaries and correct the gap in the current law during his opening day remarks, Representative Della Au Belatti (Makiki, Tantalus, Papakolea, McCully, Pawaa, Manoa), Chair of the House Committee on Health, called for a “steady, measured and reasonable approach” to discussions on legalizing local dispensaries for medical marijuana.

“Last year under Act 177, we took the first step to lay the groundwork to transition management and oversight of medical marijuana from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health,” noted Belatti. “This will allow us to regulate its use and distribution primarily from a health perspective, as it should be.”  Officials from both Public Safety and Health were on hand to update House members on the progress of that transition. The deadline for the transition to the Health Department is January 1, 2015.

“The medical sophistication of the active compounds in cannabis is extraordinary,” said James Anthony, an Oakland-based attorney who specializes in medical cannabis dispensary land use law.  “The “high” we normally attribute to recreational users of marijuana that most of us are familiar with is just one of its affects. But it’s not a just single drug with a single outcome.”

Anthony pointed to the advances in research and development in medical cannabis and explained how researchers can now identify and isolate many of its active compounds to create drug variations specifically targeted to treat the severe and otherwise unmanageable effects of a wide range of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, HIV and arthritis.

In response to questions of increasing crime related to the legalized distribution of medical cannabis, Mayor Robert Jacob of Sebastapol, California, referred to statistics that show the opposite is true. “When you take medical cannabis out of the black market, provide clear regulations and laws guiding its use, and a secure and reliable distribution system, the crime rate associated with it actually drops,” he said.

When asked his view on which level of government, city or state, is best equipped to oversee medical cannabis dispensaries, Jacob pointed to his experience in Sebastapol, a small city of less than 10,000 and nearby Santa Rosa, with a population of a little over 170,000.

He said city or county oversight of dispensaries was a double edged sword.  On one hand, city or county regulators and lawmakers have a smaller and less complex population and are closer to the actual process when it is handled by smaller intra-state municipalities, according to Jacob.  On the other hand, states end up with a “patchwork” of sometimes conflicting regulations and processes through which dispensary operators and patients must negotiate.

Karl Malivuk, a registered medical marijuana patient who recently moved from New Mexico—where there are 23 medical marijuana dispensaries—to Hawaii, said he did not appreciate the accessibility and level of professional caregivers, physicians and providers who specialize in medical marijuana in New Mexico when he moved to the Islands. He said he could not put into words the “loss of support” he felt after relocating to Hawaii.

HB 1587—which passed first reading and is currently being reviewed by the House committees on health, judiciary and finance—creates a system of registered medical marijuana dispensaries and dispensary agents in the state of Hawaii.

HCR 48 and HR 29—which have been referred to the House committees on health, judiciary and legislative management—requests the convening of a task force to develop recommendations for the establishment of a regulated statewide dispensary system for medical marijuana.