Hawaii was the first state to legalize medical marijuana via legislation, in 2000. Its first dispensaries are set to open in July. (Brennan Linsley, Associated Press file)

Hawaii in hurry to set medical pot rules; legalization bills in mix too

HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers are considering dozens of proposals to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, as well as a couple that could legalize recreational marijuana.

Nearly 16 years after Hawaii became the first state to legalize medical marijuana through the legislative process, the state is now less than three months away from issuing its first medical marijuana dispensary permits.

Under the law passed in 2015, the state will grant eight licenses across the islands. The law allows medical marijuana businesses to have two production centers and two retail dispensaries, for a total of 16 dispensaries statewide. Dispensaries are scheduled to be opened in July.

But some state lawmakers have concerns with the Hawaii Department of Health’s interim rules, which outline how medical marijuana businesses can operate. Lawmakers say they plan to address them this legislative session if the health department doesn’t make changes before dispensaries open.

“I think this is a pretty normal process when you have a major piece of legislation,” Democratic Sen. Josh Green said. “They revisit it and try to make minor adjustments.”

Among marijuana-related bills are proposals to create oversight boards for the state’s future dispensary industry. Other bills address how dispensaries and grow houses operate, for example, by considering whether to allow marijuana edibles and greenhouses.

Under the current rules, greenhouses are not allowed, but lawmakers say they’re important to reduce energy costs. Hawaii has some of the highest electricity costs in the nation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“We’re talking about the cost of energy. We’re talking about the cost until fruition,” said Democratic Sen. Will Espero, who introduced a number of bills related to medical marijuana. “Ultimately that will affect the cost to the patient.”

Meanwhile, another proposal would start a working group to look into edibles, which aren’t allowed under current rules. Opponents say they worry that marijuana edibles such as candies or baked goods could fall into the hands of children, so lawmakers want to establish the group to explore safe packaging.

“Ultimately, it’s about being a responsible adult,” Espero said. “You keep your alcohol away from kids. You keep your prescription drugs away from kids. This is no different.”

There are also proposals to legalize or decriminalize recreational marijuana.

Nationwide, over a dozen states are considering proposals to legalize recreational marijuana, but some Hawaii lawmakers say Hawaii is not likely to legalize it this year.

However, some lawmakers say decriminalizing marijuana could happen this session.

Twenty-three states, Guam and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Four states and the District of Columbia allow small amounts of recreational marijuana, while 20 states have decriminalized it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.