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Don’t go corporate on cannabis

March 15, 2017 - 12:05am

Big Island medical cannabis patients have mostly lost hope. Our Legislature has bought totally into the corporatization of dispensaries. No matter how hard advocates and patients tried to move them in the right direction, representatives passed dispensary legislation that actually does great harm to most patients. Cases in point:

1. We told them that we needed at least 26 conveniently located dispensaries; they gave us eight monopoly licenses statewide with licenses costing $75,000 (A rich person’s game).

2. We told them that producers (growers) and dispensaries should be separate operations allowing small producers a share of the market; they gave us another monopoly where both the production and dispensing are controlled by the same rich owner.

3. We told them to allow cooperatives (huis) where patients could procure medicine inexpensively; not even a hearing given this year.

4. We told them that caregivers should remain in the program allowing poor and fixed income patients to obtain very low cost medicine; they’re phasing out our caregivers.

How could they get it so wrong? Answer: Follow the money. Is it any wonder patients and advocates are fed up? And, when one of our staunchest legislative supporters says, “We need to go kind of slow right now,” we know we have little support in Honolulu.

Patients know what slow is as we’ve been waiting (and suffering) for 17 years. What will happen now: Statewide patient numbers will mushroom and the demand for cannabis will soar. Once dispensaries open (maybe this year) the medicine will be prohibitively priced, highly taxed and out of reach for all but for the wealthiest of patients.

Although tourists will have no problem buying it all up thus assuring the dispensary owners their huge profit. Those factors will drive most of us back into the black market. It is ironic that the Legislature’s stated intention in creating dispensaries was to stop the black market. In reality it will actually lend fuel to a burgeoning illegal market in the coming years. An unintended consequence? Or maybe not.

It is not wrong to have dispensaries. However, when the main priority becomes maximizing revenue for government coffers and a few dispensary owners, the patients lose out. By smelling the money rather than demonstrating compassion for the sick and dying, our legislators have thrown the baby out with the bong water. It could have had a far better outcome if they had just listened to the medical cannabis community from the beginning.

Andrea Tischler, chairwoman, Big Island Americans for Safe Access, is a resident of Hilo.

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