Several bills to establish medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawaii have failed in recent years in the State Legislature, and this year's session is no exception. But a resolution aimed at laying the groundwork for such dispensaries has been approved by a House committee.
Right now, there are some 12,000 registered users in Hawaii of medical marijuana, which was legalized in 2000. But there is still no way for patients to legally buy the cannabis.
One of those medical marijuana users is Maile Jen Kaneshiro, also known as M.J. She is five years old and has a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet's Syndrome. She has suffered seizures several times a day.
M.J.'s mother, Jari Sugano of Mililani, said the family has tried all kinds of treatments, without success. But medical cannabis seems to work.
"I was a bit hesitant," said Sugano. "I mean, who wants to put their child on marijuana?"
Sugano said using the cannabis seemed to reduce the seizures to just one every other day.
"We were able to see some differences in her seizure control, as well as her cognitive ability," said Sugano. "We noticed that she was babbling a little bit more and she was more focused."
But Sugano has to grow the plants, and then try to get more CBD from them. CBD is the medicinal extract of marijuana, compared with THC, which causes users to get "high."
Sugano found a way to get resins from the cannabis plants. She freeze-dries the buds and uses alcohol to get the resins. She then takes the resins after the alcohol blows off and mixed them with coconut oil, which she then gives to M.J.
Sugano said she wouldn't have to do all that herself if dispensaries were available.
"We would be able to go to a pharmacy, sort of in a sense, and to just say we need this much of this extract, and its been tested to have so much percent CBD in it, and then from there would be able to determine how much to dose," she said.
Bills to establish dispensaries have been opposed by law enforcement and prosecutors. The Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii argues that dispensaries shouldn't even be necessary soon, as pharmaceutical companies are coming up with medications that have CBD in them.
The State House Health Committee has passed resolutions that would convene a task force to make recommendations on how dispensaries would work.
"We're doing the groundwork that's going to be necessary, so that when we do put forward a bill we want to have as many questions answered as possible," said Rep. Della Au Belatti, who chairs the Heath Committee.
Belatti said such a bill would likely not be ready until the 2015 Legislature. In the meantime, Sugano said she has run out of the oil, and M.J.'s seizures have returned.
"It's a real disservice to our patients to not have a dispensary system," said Belatti. "And we have individuals like M.J., five years old, who we know can benefit from the low THC, high CBD medical cannabis."