LIHUE — A group of Kauai stakeholders plans to apply for a medical marijuana dispensary on the island, and hopes to make it 100 percent locally funded and operated.
Judiah McRoberts, Kauai Dispensary Project lead director, said Gov. David Ige’s approval of House Bill 321 — which establishes a licensing system for medical marijuana dispensaries in the state — will create easier access for more than 1,800 registered medical marijuana patients on Kauai.
“A lot of these patients are going through the black market and the product in the black market is not regulated or tested in any way, shape or form,” he said. “I think developing a dispensary on Kauai can provide safe, quality control, reliable place where people can come and purchase cannabis products for their medical needs.”
Hawaii legalized medical marijuana 15 years ago, and there are nearly 13,000 registered medical marijuana cardholders in the state. Under the new law, patients will be able to purchase up to 8 ounces of marijuana per month.
But opponents say a Kauai facility could be detrimental to the island’s youth.
“I’m just worried that this can get in the hands of our children like how alcohol did and other drugs,” said Theresa Koki, Life’s Choices Kauai coordinator. “I mean, who’s going to be raising these kids if the parents going always be stoned?”
Koki did say, however, medicine should be accessible for those who need it.
“There is no way I want to keep medicine from people that need it, but it’s not the whole marijuana plant — it’s the hemp plant that has CBD qualities that can kill pain,” she said. “I really believe in the oils for the kids who are having epileptic (seizures), though, but I really want that to go to the FDA.”
The Kauai Dispensary Project (KDP) has been approached by three investors and currently has an advisory board of five members, McRoberts said, who wish to remain silent until plans are further developed.
“At this time KDP is creating an advisory board of local professionals including legal advisers, medical professionals, security experts, farmers, engineers and patient advocates whom will be responsible for developing dispensary plans to submit with an application which will be available Jan. 11, 2016,” he said.
The licensees that are selected will be announced by April 15, and dispensaries will be able to dispense product no sooner than July 15, 2016.
According to the bill, the dispensary must be owned by Hawaii residents who have lived in Hawaii five years before Jan. 16, 2016.
“My understanding of the bill is that by October you have to have secured $1.2 million minimum, of which 51 percent has to be from a local individual or comprised of local individuals who have maintained residency for the last five years,” McRoberts said. “The other 49 percent can be out of state.”
If built, McRoberts said, the Kauai dispensary would have two retail locations and two production centers with no more than 3,000 plants for each center.
The new law also prohibits counties from enacting zoning regulations that discriminate against licensed dispensaries and production centers.
It also allows the legal transport of medical marijuana in any public place, under certain conditions by qualified patients, primary caregivers or owners-employees of medical marijuana production centers and dispensaries.
Ige signed HB 321 into law on July 15.
“I support the establishment of dispensaries to ensure that qualified patients can legally and safely access medical marijuana,” Ige said in a statement. “We know that our challenge going forward will be to adopt rules that are fair, cost-effective and easy to monitor. The bill sets a timeline. We will make a good-faith effort to create a fair process that will help the people most in need.”
Rep. James Tokioka voted against the measure, citing concerns over the lack of input and oversight from the county.
“Like bars, it has to be of a certain distance from certain things,” he said. “This bill doesn’t address any of the county’s rules and regulations in place as they would in a bar that would be asking for license to operate.”
Tokioka also had other concerns.
“The first step is the dispensary; the second step would be to legalize marijuana recreationally throughout Hawaii. I’m strongly opposed to that,” he said. “It’s a gateway drug to more illegal drugs: cocaine, black tar heroin. That’s certainly a big concern.”
Additionally, Tokioka said, community members in his district — which includes Lihue, Koloa and Wailua Homesteads — “strongly opposed” marijuana legalization and medical dispensaries.
“I sent out surveys for the last six years, and there was always a question in the survey from two of the constituents of District 15, and overwhelmingly the response from the surveys have been in opposition from my district to legalizing marijuana and the medical dispensaries,” he said.
McRoberts, a Kauai resident for 19 years, said KDP is planning to hold dialogues with the community to address concerns.
“Going forward, we plan on having meetings with all stakeholders, including local officials, to discuss and help develop our plans,” he said. “We also plan to have a series of town hall style meetings to take community input and address concerns and questions.”
Rep. Dee Morikawa of District 16, an introducer of the HB 321, said the intent of the measure was to phase out the black market.
“We can get the black market totally out of it. The way it’s going, the growers themselves, the caretakers, there is no enforcement,” she said. “I think that’s where a lot of our illegal access is coming from. Until we get the rules in place, we can’t really enforce it. They’ll be very strict rules even for the caregivers allowed to grow. They’ll be monitored very closely until it goes into effect.”
“It’s a double-edged thing because the black market’s going to be stronger now because people are not going to afford the medicine from the dispensary because there will be big fees to pay,” she said. “I would like to have the funding for this dispensary give the county money for enforcement because people are going to be driving under the influence if they smoke.”
Koki would also like to see dispensary funds to go toward marijuana-addiction treatment programs.
“And also money for treatment for kids hooked on marijuana because they’re going to touch their parent’s or uncle’s stash,” she said.