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Hawaii lawyers seek permission to represent marijuana dispensaries

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    In this Nov. 7
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Former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle and a group of attorneys led by David Louie are urging the Hawaii Supreme Court to reverse an opinion barring lawyers from helping to establish medical marijuana dispensaries. 

A formal opinion issued this week by the Disciplinary Board of the Hawaii Supreme Court concludes that lawyers may advise clients on marijuana production and distribution facilities but not "provide legal services to facilitate the establishment and operation of a medical marijuana business," considered a federal crime. 

The Legislature passed a bill this year which allows for 16 dispensaries to open in Hawaii on July 15. The law allows for each licensee to operate two dispensaries and two grow centers: six on Oahu, four on Maui, four on Hawaii island and two on Kauai. 

There are roughly 13,000 Hawaii residents registered to use medical marijuana, but under current state law they have to grow their own pot or buy it illegally.

Former state Attorney General Louie confirmed he sent a letter that was also signed by 23 other lawyers concerned about the recent ruling.

"We’re interested that people who want to apply for dispensary licenses be able to obtain legal advice from lawyers so that all of us in the state can ensure safe, legal, appropriate access to medical marijuana for qualified patients," he said. "We’ve asked the Supreme Court to take a look at the disciplinary rules and recent formal opinion by the disciplinary board and to consider acting to clarify the operation of the rule." 

Separately, Carlisle told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, that he hopes the Supreme Court will "fix the rule and make a comment and do it quickly." 

"The other reason it has to be done quickly is because there’s an immense amount of work that has to be put into one of these applications. Some of them exceed 1,000 pages in length," said Carlisle, who represents The Wellness Group, a local consortium interested in applying for a dispensary license. "It’s imperative that we get it quickly. The goal of all of this is to establish a regulated statewide dispensary system for medical marijuana to ensure safe and legal access to pharmaceutical grade cannabis for qualifying patients." 

Medical marijuana promoters say dispensaries in Hawaii could create a lucrative new market with up to 800 jobs and $65 million a year in sales. 

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