Hawaii Checks Rare Milestone in Legal Cannabis

Stephen Andrews
05 Oct 2023

A Hawaiian cannabis company has managed to accomplish the first state-legal transfer of medical weed between islands. Why wasn’t this possible in legal terms before, you may ask? Both airspace and water surrounding the Pacific islands are under federal jurisdiction. Hawaii also had its own ban on inter-island cannabis transfer.

It’s a small step for man, but big enough for legal weed. A cannabis operator in Hawaii wrote into the annals of cannabis history after completing the first legal inter-island transfer of medicinal marijuana. The transfer took place in the beginning of September, but the company waited for a month before spilling the beans, ensuring in the meantime that all goes well with the delicate procedure. 

Cannabis Transfer Between Islands Was Not Possible Until Now

It’s the first time Hawaii has allowed inter-island transfer of cannabis, although the state has had a medical cannabis program in place for decades now. The in-between-islands transport of legal cannabis has remained a challenge, and was made possible thanks to a recent change in the state legislature

For years, Hawaiian authorities followed federal law that prohibits all use and possession of marijuana. The decision to amend the rules on cannabis transport came through after worries about federal interference in state-licensed medical marijuana programs have faded. The change in state law was signed by Gov. Josh Green during the summer. 

The company that reported on the first cannabis transfer between the Hawaiian islands is Big Island Grown (BIG). In September, the operator completed two wholesale transfers of medicinal cannabis, outgoing from the Big Island and bound to Kauai. 

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

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

However, the company and its CEO did not share any more details how the cannabis reached from one island to the other.  

When Moore was asked if the cannabis was transported by boat, airplane or other means, she avoided a straight answer. “It’s falling from the sky,” went her witty remark. 

Moore explained that the state's Department of Health does not stipulate the rules of transport. She pointed out that the department simply cares that transfers are arranged in a responsible way and that the stock continues to be monitored through tracking systems, according to Marijuana Moment

Moore, who is also the government policy chair for the Hawaii Cannabis Industry Association, said that the health department “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 Law Still Bans Inter-Island Cannabis Transfers

Federal law in general prohibits transfer of cannabis between states and territories. Although this was not an attempt to transport cannabis between two different states, a problem remained with the airspace and the waters of the Pacific Ocean surrounding Hawaii; according to law, they are in the jurisdiction of the federal government. 

The recent cannabis transfer between the Hawaiian islands would have not been made possible without some state-level legislature changes, however. Lawmakers first had to deal with removal of Hawaii’s own prohibition on such transfers by allowing regulated dispensary-to-dispensary sales as part of a larger cannabis bill. 

Like every other piece of legislation that concerns cannabis, the matter of inter-island transfers has been considered and reviewed among the authorities for years. 

In 2019, Hawaiian lawmakers rejected a measure to permit legal operators to ship cannabis between islands. The reasons cited included that “airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government” and also that enacting this type of measure would lead people to “erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution.”  

Cannabis activists in Hawaii of course welcomed the latest development in their state. Nevertheless, they used the occasion to remind policymakers that there are also a lot of other pressing issues that need to be resolved within the state’s medical cannabis program, such as regulating employment protections and improving patients’ access to tinctures, extracts and edibles. 

The question whether to regulate the recreational use of cannabis is also a hot topic among lawmakers in the Aloha state. Earlier this year, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill that seeks to legalize the adult-use of marijuana, but the legislation failed in the House. 

Well, it’s a pity if a state that has given some pretty fine landraces along the way, postpones any further to formally recognize cannabis with a decent recreational use law. 

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Stephen Andrews