HONOLULU—Aloha Green is situated in a downtown building whose austere beige-ness belies the company’s more therapeutic purpose: It’s a medical-marijuana dispensary.
As soon as I tried to walk inside for an interview, I was met by a metal detector and a large man who demanded to see my medical-marijuana card. I don’t have one—I don’t live in Hawaii and am not seeking the most herbal of cures for my ailments—so I’m told to wait outside. All I catch a glimpse of is a small window behind which some workers toil away quietly, like they’re at a bank.
Instead, I was lead upstairs to the dispensary’s office by Helen Cho, Aloha Green’s director. Printed out and wallpapering half the conference room was the entirety of Hawaii’s medical-marijuana legislation. They don’t want to miss a single, nit-picky detail.
And there are a lot of them. They can’t sell paraphernalia, like rolling papers, or edibles. Everything has to be grown indoors and tested before it can go out to customers. Shoppers can look at the bright-green buds under a magnifying glass, but they’re forbidden from touching the product.
The litany of restrictions might seem odd for a state that’s solidly Democratic and is known—or at least stereotyped—as being easygoing and fun. As more and more states legalize marijuana, Hawaii’s cautious attitude shows just how much the definitions of “legal” can vary. “The stereotype is that everything east of the Mississippi is medical, like Delaware and New York, and everything west of it is the Wild West [of pot],” said Mark Kleiman, a professor of public service at New York University who has researched marijuana laws extensively. “I guess if you go east to Hawaii rather than west, you can count them as part of the east-coast school.”