Several medical marijuana bills considered

Several bills being considered by the state Legislature aim to make things easier for people in the state’s medical marijuana program, but Big Island police have a few concerns.

Senate Bill 2523, introduced by Puna Democrat Sen. Russell Ruderman, as originally written would allow open-air growing operations, greenhouses and shade houses to serve as medical marijuana production centers — so long as operations aren’t visible to the outside.

The idea, Ruderman said, is for plants to grow under natural sunlight “as they’ve evolved to do,” rather than indoors under artificial lamps. The bill was amended Thursday to nix open-air growing, and would now take effect starting in 2017, rather than this year.

Last year, lawmakers passed a bill to establish the first system of medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawaii. Under the law, the Department of Health can award up to eight dispensary licenses — up to two production centers and two retail dispensing sites per location. The department received 66 applications for licenses last month, and will announce selections April 15.

The Big Island was awarded two licenses. Those selected can start operating July 15.

Currently, the statute mandates all dispensary facilities — both production centers and retail dispensing locations — must be enclosed and indoors. Ruderman believes that’s too restrictive. He said evidence shows marijuana plants grow differently under artificial lights. Indoor growing also would increase operating costs, he said, which could further drive prices up for the patient.

“Plants should be grown in sunlight, especially in the state which has the most,” he said.

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