Hawai’i to Offer Cannabis Access for Out-of-State Patients

A new program ensures no one has to choose between medicine and paradise.

Things move slowly in Hawai’i. While the island chain that comprises our 50th state adopted a medical-marijuana program back in 2000, it wasn’t until 2015 that Hawai’i decided that a dispensary system might be helpful.

Prior to the introduction of licensed dispensaries, Hawai’i’s medical-cannabis program was a grow-your-own affair. Now, with help from the Hawai’i Educational Association for Licensed Therapeutic Healthcare (HEALTH), the state is ready to allow qualified out-of-state patients to add a little extra aloha to their trip.

HEALTH’s Executive Director Pedro Haro attributes the newly announced program to close collaboration between lawmakers, stakeholders, the industry, and regulators.

“It’s a 360-degree approach to dealing with cannabis,” Haro says. “Rather than one agency working against another, it’s really been all of us working together to learn from other states and share what we find.”

Unlike medical patients in California — Hawai’i does not currently permit the sale of recreational cannabis — the logistic barriers for procuring pot in Hawai’i prior to the dispensary system were compounded by geographic challenges. Simply put, without access to a brick-and-mortar location or a delivery service, the only options for local patients were to cultivate their own plants or rely on the kindness of a neighbor, a family member, or a friend with a grow. And pakalolo, the Hawai’ian word for cannabis, is known to be high-quality stuff.

Since Hawai’i’s first physical dispensary opened 15 months ago on Maui, access has become more convenient. While Haro says that opening up Hawai’i’s medical program for out-of-state patients was always part of the plan, he notes it was important to give dispensary licensees a grace period to get a feel for local demand.

“The No. 1 question dispensaries got once they were open and operational was from visitors asking how they could get access,” he says. “Our lawmakers really wanted to make sure that our dispensaries were first and foremost available and ready to serve local populations, but I think the long-term goal was always to eventually consider letting out-of-state patients become part of the system, too.”

Part of the desire to provide out-of-state patients with access to local dispensaries stemmed from an understanding that Hawai’i’s remoteness requires travel by plane or cruise ship — two forms of transport that have yet to show much flexibility when it comes to having medical marijuana on your person.

“At this point, it’s not legal to transport it,” Haro confirms. “You can’t bring it in your car or anything like that, either. That’s technically illegal if you’re crossing state lines. With Hawai’i, we’re stuck. We never wanted people to have to make a decision between coming to paradise and being able to take their medication. That doesn’t seem fair.”

Now visitors no longer have to choose. With licensed dispensaries currently open on every inhabited island — with the exception of Molokai and Lanai, two smaller islands grouped in with Maui County — there’s no longer any need to smuggle pot through the airport in peanut butter jars. At present, eight licensees are in operation across the state, with each one eligible to open up to three shops apiece.

Before packing your bags, you’ll want to make sure you meet Hawai’i’s eligibility requirements. Most importantly, you’ll need a real medical recommendation. Essentially, if you have a medical marijuana identification card (MMIC) issued by the state, you’re good to go. If you logged onto a website and did a video chat with a doctor, that’s not going to cut it. Californians are the people most likely to be confused by this stipulation — Hawai’i’s system is open to any patient from a state-sanctioned, medical-cannabis program — as most other states established a more stringent system for medical access from the get-go.

The other thing you’ll need to know is whether the condition that qualified you for medical cannabis in your state is recognized in Hawai’i.

“The person applying for our out-of-state patient program here in Hawai’i has to fall within the allowed medical conditions for which medical cannabis is recommended here in Hawai’i,” Haro says. “Most people in Hawai’i apply for a medical cannabis card due to severe pain. It tends to be a similar situation for other states.”

Provided you’ve met the guidelines, the rewards sound simply amazing. Just as smuggling cannabis into Hawai’i is a risk few would find worthwhile, getting cannabis out of Hawai’i is no walk in the park, either. This means that qualified patients can get their true first taste of homegrown Maui Wowie — should they wish.

“That’s the real beauty about our system,” Haro says. “The products themselves are world-class. We really take pride in the fact that our cannabis is grown in the same soil that grows Kona coffee and macadamia nuts. We have what we believe are some of the best products in the world.”