Hawai‘i’s medical marijuana dispensary system is off to a slow start. While the law allowed dispensaries to open back in July, many are now waiting on the state. HPR’s Molly Solomon explains.
Aloha Green Holdings is one of Hawai‘i’s first eight dispensaries chosen by the state Department of Health earlier this year. The company’s application received the highest score, 475 points, and is based in Central Oahu. Tai Cheng is Aloha Green’s Chief Operating Officer. He says the first phase of their dispensary, a small grow nursery, was completed 3 months ago. The dispensary expects to expand that to 3,000 plants by early next year.
“But we’ve been ready to grow since September,” said Cheng. “We’ve received an inspection already from the Department of Health. We are unaware of any deficiencies and we’re just waiting for the notice to proceed.”
Cheng says the costly delay is taking its toll on the business and his employees.
“We’re looking at laying off our growers in the next few weeks because there is no work for them right now,” he explained. “We will not be growing until next year and medical marijuana won’t be for sale until June or July next year.”
Cheng gave the update at a Medical Marijuana Legislative Oversight Working Group meeting. Keith Ridley with Hawai‘i’s Department of Health recently announced that the state will be working with BioTrackTHC to follow cannabis from seed to sale. But he said it will take several months before the new system is installed on the state’s end.
“We want to get a system in place that will allow the dispensaries to tie into the state tracking system, which is required by law in order for the state to track grow and inventory,” said Ridley.
State Senator Rosalyn Baker and Rep. Joy San Buenaventura were among lawmakers who grilled Ridley about the wait.
“I’m just trying to figure out what’s taking us so long,” said Sen. Baker. “Because I really don’t think this is rocket science.”
“What is it that they are not doing that is preventing you folks from giving them the green light,” asked Rep. San Buenaventura.
“They are waiting for us,” Ridley replied.
That wait is especially taxing for medical marijuana patients, like Ron Cannarella. He suffers from a neurological disease and is frustrated with the slow pace of dispensary openings in Hawai‘i.
“I’ve been waiting day by day for these guys to start growing,” he told the working group. “I keep asking, ‘are you growing yet’ like day by day, literally.”
The state says it still doesn’t have a clear timeline for when the system will be installed and ready to operate.