HI: Medical Marijuana Use Big On Big Island

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New data from the state Department of Health confirms Hawaii County has nearly twice as many medical marijuana patients as Oahu, with about 11 percent living in Pahoa alone.

On June 30, there were 6,101 patients residing on Hawaii Island, comprising 42 percent of the 14,492 patients statewide. The island has about 13 percent of the state’s total population.

Pahoa, with an estimated 14,565 residents in 2014, had 702 of those patients. Meanwhile, Hilo – with roughly three times the population as Pahoa – had 637 patients. Kona had 705 and Oahu had 3,408 patients.

“The Big Island is a (draw) for open-minded, liberal, more alternative folks,” said Andrea Tischler, local marijuana advocate and chairwoman of the Big Island chapter of Americans for Safe Access. “And in Pahoa, people don’t have that resistance to using cannabis that others in the population might have. They use it not just for medical use, but also for recreational use, so they’re more open-minded because they know it helps them.”

The DOH has posted aggregate statistics about its medical marijuana registry program for about two years. However, the census-designated place data is new. Spokeswoman Janice Okubo said in an email additional information posted for the first time July 7 is aimed at helping newly licensed dispensary operators determine where to locate retail stores. The department plans to update it yearly, she said, and also will use it when determining where to issue future dispensary licenses.

Current law allows the DOH to issue additional licenses starting Oct. 1, 2017. Only one license can be issued per 500 patients who live in a county.

The DOH’s June 30 report also shows medical marijuana patients are overwhelmingly male and older. Just one-third were female, and more than 60 percent were over the age of 60.

Nearly 70 percent used medical cannabis for pain and about 13 percent for muscle spasms. Around 17 percent collectively – comprising 2,212 people – used the drug for cancer, nausea, PTSD, cachexia, glaucoma, seizures and HIV or AIDS.

The number of patients statewide has also sharply increased. Almost 2,000 more people were registered into the program at the end of July than in April. There are about 20 percent more patients this summer than in August 2015.

Some marijuana proponents expect numbers to jump even more. State Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona and a physician, predicts the number of patients to “double every year for the next two years.”

“By 2018, there will be 30,000 and by 2020 somewhere between 60,000 and 85,000,” he said.

Green said recent changes to the law will help the industry become more “mainstream” and lose “its stigma.” For example, lawmakers passed a bill this year that gives advanced practice registered nurses the ability to certify new patients.

DOH data shows the 14,492 patients counted statewide June 30 were certified by just 88 physicians.

“It’s clear that it will be a significant part of the medical economy,” Green said. “I’m very convinced we’ve had an artificial bottleneck because of the small number of providers.”

Those looking to join the medical marijuana program must first schedule an appointment with a certifying physician, according to the DOH website. They must then complete an online application, make a non-refundable payment and upload required documents online, including a valid ID.

The physician will then review the application and certify the condition. If all checks out, the DOH issues the patient a card.

Okubo said the DOH does not anticipate any changes to the certification program once dispensaries open “but is always looking at ways to improve the process.”

Once dispensaries open, she said, current patients can immediately begin using them. They must have a valid card and photo ID.

The DOH awarded licenses to eight companies earlier this year who will open Hawaii’s first medical marijuana dispensaries.

Medical cannabis was legalized in the state in 2000, but up until now, patients have had to either grow it themselves or get it from a caregiver. Former banana farmer Richard Ha and retired attorney Shelby Floyd were selected to open the Big Island’s first dispensaries.

Where do most of Hawaii Island’s patients live? (Top 10 zip codes)

1. 96740 (Kailua-Kona): 705

2. 96778 (Pahoa): 702

3. 96720 (Hilo): 637

4. 96749 (Keaau): 567

5. 96737 (Ocean View): 408

6. 96771 (Mountain View): 399

7. 96704 (Captain Cook): 300

8. 96743 (Waimea): 280

9. 96760 (Kurtistown): 218

10. 96727 (Honokaa): 169

Number of patients and top 5 medical conditions (As of June 30, 14,492 total)

1. Pain: 13,103 (69.08 percent)

2. Muscle spasms: 2,490 (13.13 percent)

3. Nausea: 1,162 (6.13 percent)

4. Cancer: 688 (3.63 percent)

5. PTSD: 503 (2.65 percent)

Top five age groups registered in the program

1. 56-65: 3,872 (26.72 percent)

2. 46-55: 2,660 (18.35 percent)

3. 36-45: 2,452 (16.92 percent)

4. 26-35: 2,446 (16.88 percent)

5. 66-75: 2,112 (14.57 percent)

Number of patients, by island

1. Hawaii Island: 6,101 patients (42 percent statewide)

2. Oahu: 3,408 (24 percent statewide)

3. Maui: 3,260 (22 percent statewide)

4. Kauai: 1,723 (12 percent statewide)

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Medical Marijuana Use Big On Big Island
Author: Kirsten Johnson
Contact: (808) 329-9311
Photo Credit: Hollyn Johnson
Website: West Hawaii Today