Hawaii lawmakers tour Green Mile marijuana shops
August 3, 2015
VAIL — Hawaii — where you can drop seeds on the sidewalk and they'll grow – legalized medical marijuana dispensaries. Not retail reefer, not yet, anyway.
Rep. Della Au Belatti's (D-Hawaii) bill passed in waning moments of this year's Hawaii state Legislature allows eight dispensaries in the entire state.
A dozen or so Hawaiian lawmakers were among 350 state legislators in Vail this week for the Council of State Governments West annual convention.
Along with everything else, they managed to squeeze in a field trip to Eagle County's Green Mile, touring pot shops in Eagle-Vail.
Hawaii is starting small and they'll see what happens.
"I admire the way Hawaii is baby-stepping into this," said Bryan Treu, Eagle County attorney.
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There's no inter-island transport — if you sell it on Kauai, then that's where it has to grow — and counties can also regulate it.
Hawaii isn't exactly new to this. They were the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 2000.
However, they wanted to know how legal weed is working out for Colorado. So far so good, said Eagle County officials.
About the cannabis biz
Budtender Nevada Lee Furrow was behind the Rocky Road bar with owner Tad Bowler and Roots RX owner Pete Tramm being peppered with questions from curious Hawaiian lawmakers.
Yes, it's a business and you have to work at it like any other, Furrow said.
Yes, Indiana Bubble Gum, Blueberry and Hippie Crippler are real strains. The two former were created by agriculture students at Indiana's Purdue University and Ball State University, respectively.
Yes, it's still a cash business because of draconian federal banking regulations. They pay their taxes, salaries, suppliers and bills in cash, Tramm said.
There's irony there, Tramm said.
"The IRS takes your cash, then charges you a 10 percent fee to process your cash," Tramm said, smiling and shaking his head. "They're charging folks a fee for paying their taxes."
Boulder attorney Rachel Gillette sued the IRS over it, and so far is the only lawyer to beat them.
Bowler said he liked Hawaii's idea of local growers supplying local shops. Agriculture is a tough industry, and marijuana is another revenue stream.
"Make your farmers and ranchers rich," Bowler said.
Working out weed
Eagle County's learning curve has been a bit high, but they've worked through most of the problems, said Scott Hunn, who, all by himself, handles all legal pot people for Eagle County's Community Development Department.
"Somehow it seems to be working," Hunn said.
"We worked it out with people like these guys," Treu said, nodding to Tramm, Bowler and Furrow.
The county charges an operating fee to cover regulations and enforcement, Treu said. So far, those fees have raised $150,000 for Eagle County.
With that money, pot pays its own way.
"We don't want to subsidize the industry, and the industry does not want to be subsidized," Treu said.
Customers come and go, and for the most part seem to be satisfied.
"People leave with smiles on their faces," Furrow said.
The politics of pot
The Hawaii contingent was a little concerned about what next year's election might mean to their fledgling cannabis industry.
However, Rep. Belatti pointed out that Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul introduced a bill allowing banking for pot shops. The Tea Party is backing Paul's bill, saying it should be a states' rights issue.
Pot people are working hard and taking the risks associated with any startup industry, Tramm said.
So far, the notion that they're making mountains of money simply is not true. He paid $26,000 more in taxes than he made last year, he said.
"We're not billionaires," Tramm said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.