Recent data from the state’s Department of Health indicates that Hawaii’s medical marijuana program, yet to have operating dispensaries, is growing steadily.
The number of medical marijuana patients registered in Hawaii increased by 16.6 percent in a year, West Hawaii Today reports.
At the end of 2016, there were 15,334 medical marijuana patients registered, up from 13,150 a year prior. According to West Hawaii Today, the number of residents registered for the program grew by more than 200 in the last quarter of 2016 alone. More than 67 percent of registered patients were found to use medical marijuana for severe pain and 13 percent have had it recommended for muscle spasms. More than 25 percent of registered patients are between 56 and 65 years of age.
Hawaii’s Department of Health’s Office of Health Care Assurance Hawaii has licensed eight dispensaries, but each is still drafting plants and has yet to open. Lawmakers legalized medical marijuana in 2000, but until the passing of Senate Bill 321 last year, hadn’t provided a way for patients to buy the cannabis. Qualified patients have been limited to growing their own cannabis or purchasing marijuana on the illegal market.
“After the Legislature passed the dispensary bill (in 2015) more and more patients now feel it’s OK to… get their doctor’s recommendation,” Andrea Tischler, chairwoman of the Big Island chapter of Americans for Safe Access and a medical marijuana patient, told West Hawaii Today. Tischler added that she expects the program to grow “quite substantially” once dispensaries actually open.
Dispensaries were originally supposed to be administering medical marijuana and manufacturing products in July 2016, but the program has been plagued with delays. The Hawaii Department of Health announced last week that it would allow the dispensaries to begin cultivating marijuana February 1. It can take between three and five months for plants to mature, and when the dispensaries will finally get the green light to open remains up in the air.
“It is exciting, but there’s some critical milestones ahead of us,” Brian Goldstein, dispensary owner in Honolulu, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We’re not going to be able to sell until a lab is certified, and there is uncertainty as to when that’s going to happen.”
Under Hawaii’s law, patients that have obtained a written certification from a physician and are registered with the state’s program can legally use and possess up to 4 ounces of usable marijuana and cultivate up to 7 cannabis plants. As of now the law allows patients to have a primary caregiver to cultivate and handle the cannabis, but the caregiver program is slated for elimination by 2018.
Since the end of the caregiver program was announced, the number of caregivers registered with the program has dropped substantially. The data showed that there were 493 caregivers registered last month, down from 1,056 in December 2015.
Hawaii is one of 28 US states to have so far passed comprehensive medical marijuana legislation. A report published last summer by the Hawaii Dispensary Alliance projects that Hawaii dispensaries will pull in up to $38 million in sales in their first full year of business.