Hawaii is one step closer to establishing a system of medical marijuana dispensaries nearly 15 years after the drug became legal in the state.
The state Senate passed a bill approving medical marijuana dispensaries on Tuesday. The next step is for senators and their colleagues in the House to work out their disagreements over how it should work.
For more than a decade, an estimated 13,000 patients approved to use the drug in Hawaii have generally been left to buy it on the black market or grow it on their own.
“A lot of people on the neighbor islands where they have properties can grow, but mostly … people over 60 are often having to resort to going to the black market, or having a caregiver who goes to the black market, and it’s just a little bit unsafe,” said Sen. Josh Green, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health. “So we can end the black-market question. We can treat it just as a medicine.”
The latest draft of HB 321 would allow up to one dispensary license to be granted in each county, and each license would cover up to one cultivation site and two dispensary locations. The idea is to have one dispensary on each island because taking marijuana inter-island on planes would be problematic. Earlier versions of the bill stated that counties could not opt out of the dispensary system, but the current version leaves open the possibility that a county could say no to opening a dispensary.
Senators disagreed over whether the customers and dispensary owners should be taxed for sales of the drug and how much dispensary owners should be charged to get in the business.
The latest committees to pass the bill had recommended a 25 percent tax on sales that would be split between the dispensary and the patient.
“If we’re going to be providing medicine, it seems unreasonable that we should single this out to charge a high tax that we do not charge on other medicines,” said Sen. Gil Riviere, a Democrat who represents Kaneohe and parts of Oahu.
To open a dispensary, all applicants would be charged a $25,000 non-refundable application fee. Approved dispensaries would pay $75,000 for each license and an additional $25,000 fee for each dispensary location, plus an annual fee of $50,000 for each license.
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