- Associated Press - Friday, February 12, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Some Hawaii lawmakers and advocates say medical marijuana dispensary applicants could be at a disadvantage because health department rules don’t allow greenhouses.

Lawmakers are considering a bill to allow medical marijuana business owners to grow plants in greenhouses, shade houses or outdoors in open air.

Right now, rules posted on the Hawaii Department of Health’s website say that isn’t allowed, and medical marijuana must be grown in an enclosed structure. Janice Okubo of the Hawaii Department of Health said the department doesn’t plan on changing the rules unless there’s a change in state law.

Hawaii lawmakers said it wasn’t their intention to ban greenhouses or outdoor growing as long as facilities are secure. Hawaii has some of the highest electricity costs in the nation, and potential marijuana business owners say they could save thousands of dollars in electricity costs growing marijuana with sunlight.

“We think that this bill would remedy a very bad oversight or misstep in the admin rules,” said Pam Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii.

Some lawmakers and advocates said some Hawaii residents may have been deterred from applying because it would have been so expensive to grow indoors. They questioned whether the Hawaii Department of Health should reopen the dispensary application process entirely if rules are changed.

“Do you think maybe we ought to just say, ‘Well, I think we screwed up,’” said Rep. Richard Creagan, vice chair of the House Health Committee. “Maybe we should draw back and reopen the dispensary applications?”

The Hawaii Attorney General’s office said current applicants could still benefit if the bill passed this session. Medical marijuana businesses could change their business plans to instead incorporate greenhouses or shade houses.

The Health Department is currently in the process of reviewing applications for dispensaries, which will be awarded in April. Actor and marijuana advocate Woody Harrelson and video game designer Henk Rogers were among 59 who applied to open dispensaries, which can open as soon as July.

Under a law passed in 2015, the state will grant eight licenses for marijuana business owners 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. The Department of Health’s rules allow for more businesses to apply for dispensary licenses after 2017.

Hawaii became the first to legalize medical marijuana through the legislative process 16 years ago. Lawmakers have introduced laws to legalize recreational marijuana; however they don’t think they’re likely to pass this year.

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