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Hawaii Company Completes First State-Legal Transfer Of Marijuana Between Islands



A cannabis producer and dispensary operator in Hawaii made minor history last month by completing the first legal inter-island transfer of medical marijuana since the state established a dispensary system in 2016.

The transaction happened legally under state law thanks to a recent change that took effect in August. Previously, Hawaii barred inter-island transfers, citing federal jurisdiction over airspace and water around the islands. Federal law still prohibits all use and possession of cannabis, of course, but officials changed the state policy as concerns about federal interference in state-licensed marijuana programs have diminished.

The company Big Island Grown (BIG) announced two wholesale transfers of medical cannabis products from the Big Island to retailers in Kauai in September, during the first month such inter-island transfers were allowed under a state law signed by Gov. Josh Green (D) in June.

“We completed the first wholesale delivery in the state history on September 1,” co-founder and CEO Jaclyn Moore told Marijuana Moment in an interview this week. “We are in every dispensary on Kauai now.”

“We’re looking now at Maui and Oahu,” she added. “Really every island where there’s a dispensary.”

In an emailed announcement, the company said it waited almost a month after the transfer “to ensure everything went smoothly before breaking the news.” In the interview this week, Moore was still cagey about some of the details.

“It’s falling from the sky,” she quipped, sidestepping a question about whether cannabis products were transported by boat, airplane or some other means.

“The Department of Health in the state is not prescribing how that actually gets done,” she elaborated. “What they are prescribing is the responsible way of ensuring that it, you know, continues to be monitored” through tracking systems.

The health department, continued Moore, who is also the government policy chair for the Hawai‘i Cannabis Industry Association, “has made it very clear that the licensees are assuming the risk for transport and that, you know, the state law and its protections do not affect federal law and its enforcement.”

Federal regulations still prohibit the inter-island transfer of marijuana. But recent changes in state law, passed as part of a cannabis omnibus bill, accelerated the removal of Hawaii’s own prohibition on such transfers by allowing regulated dispensary-to-dispensary sales.

A separate bill signed into law by Gov. David Ige (D) in 2022, HB 2260, technically permitted such transfers, but it required a rulemaking process that Moore said was likely to take years. The newly enacted rules, by contrast, were made through an expedited process and took effect August 7.

Ige previously rejected an inter-island cannabis bill in 2019, saying in a veto statement that “airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government” and that enacting the bill could lead people to “erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution.”

Both airspace and much of the Pacific Ocean surrounding the Hawaiian Islands are under federal jurisdiction.

A pharmacist, Moore said a big reason the state’s medical marijuana industry pushed to loosen state restrictions on inter-island cannabis trade was to ensure access to safe products among all Hawaii’s residents. “It is this need for legal access to clean, tested cannabis products that really propels us to be at the forefront of trying to expand the legal infrastructure in every way possible,” she said.

Nikos Leverenz, of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai‘i and the Hawai‘i Health and Harm Reduction Center, acknowledged the milestone of the inter-island transfer. But in an email to Marijuana Moment, he emphasized that access to off-island products was just one piece of protecting medical marijuana patients.

“It’s a welcome development for Hawaii’s current dispensaries to be able to offer cannabis flower and products from other dispensaries at their retail locations,” Leverenz said. “However, policymakers have a lot of unfinished business when it comes to medical cannabis, including employment protections for medical cannabis patients and ensuring that those receiving hospice care are able to access cannabis tinctures and edibles.”

Employment protections have been recommended by two prior legislative groups, he noted, including a Dual-Use Cannabis Task Force last year.

“With Hawaii moving toward adult-use legalization, current dispensaries should also have the latitude to provide cannabis flower from authorized smaller legacy growers,” Leverenz continued. “Hawaii’s emerging cannabis economy requires broader participation, with priority given to small-scale local producers, to meet current and future consumer needs.”

He also called for the state to decriminalize at least an ounce of cannabis “that is exempt from any citation, fine, or other penalty,” and for all cannabis paraphernalia to be exempted from the state’s drug paraphernalia law “should that code section not be repealed” in its entirety.

Hawaii’s Senate passed an adult-use legalization law earlier this year, but the measure ultimately stalled out in the House. Advocates are shifting focus to 2024, hoping to enact the reform in the second half of the two-year legislative session.

In the Senate, the measure was amended in several important ways that advocates support, including the addition of expungements language. Rep. Jeanne Kapela (D), who sponsored a separate legalization bill that did not advance, said the amended proposal represents an “incredible compromise.”

In April, state lawmakers approved a resolution asking the governor to create a marijuana clemency program.

Meanwhile, a state psychedelics task force held its first meeting in August as experts work to prepare the state to potentially allow regulated access to novel therapies like psilocybin and MDMA.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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