Despite looming questions, the first medical marijuana dispensary in Hawaii is slated to open next week.
For Jari Sugano and her family, the milestone is a victory in gaining access to what they consider, potentially life-saving medication for her 8-year-old daughter, MJ.
“Our journey has been long, she’s had epilepsy from day one, she has a genetic mutation,” said Sugano.
Sugano said medical marijuana was a last resort for MJ.
“At the age of four, we realize nothing was working, and we were lucky enough to realize Hawaii had a medical cannabis program since 2000,” said Sugano.
She said gaining access to the medication was not easy.
“We’ve waited about 4 years, we’ve been involved in the legislative process to see this day come forward,” recalled Sugano.
Hawaii’s first medical marijuana dispensary is scheduled to open on Thursday, June 8.
“There hasn’t been a great public outreach to let people know how this is going to roll out or allow community members to ask questions if they’re concerned about possible safeguards that need to be in place,” said Rep. Andria Tupola (R-District 34).
Rep. Tupola was one of three state representatives who hosted a town hall on medical marijuana Tuesday evening at Kapolei High School.
“We’ve seen such a bad increase in marijuana use among our young people especially the last couple years,” said Virginia Jackson, of Pono Kapolei, a drug-free community coalition.
Some critics of the state’s policy are concerned about what access to marijuana will mean to at-risk youth.
“What I’ve seen, is a lot of kids drop out of school very early, they get into the marijuana scene, they’re so busy selling it, using it, they lose motivation for school, it kind of stalls their education,” said Jackson.
“I think the fear is something that people should not concern themselves with,” said Christopher Garth, with Hawaii Dispensary Alliance.
Supporters of medical marijuana say education about responsible use is key moving forward.
“I don’t think that this is paving the way for recreational use, and let’s just keep in mind that children recreate but adults use responsibly,” said Garth.
They say when medical cannabis is used as directed, it can help patients, like MJ.
“She’s doing much better today, she is able to walk, function, she has a much different life than when she used to 4 years ago, so medical marijuana has really changed her life for the better,” said Sugano.
Aside from epilepsy, patients who have multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe nausea, severe muscle spasms, chronic pain, or wasting syndrome can also qualify for medical marijuana registration card, also known as a 329 Registration Card.