Seventeen years after the state passed trailblazing medical cannabis laws in the legislature — and not through the ballot box — Hawaiian patients now have access to a regulated market, with the first two dispensaries now open.
After officially passing their final inspection from the Department of Health, Maui Grown Therapies transacted the first sales in the state for preregistered patients — narrowly edging out Aloha Green of Oahu (which opened August 9) for the claim to “first Hawaiian dispensary, even though Maui Grown didn’t officially open until August 14.
The state’s Health Director, Dr. Virginia Pressler, released an official DOH statement marking the day’s importance and saying it sets “a new standard for dispensary programs other states can emulate.”
“This is an important day for qualified patients and caregivers on Maui who now have assurance the medical cannabis they purchase at Maui Grown Therapies has been thoroughly tested and is safe for them to use,” she said. “Implementing a new health program is always challenging, and the dispensary program was no exception.”
Maui Grown Therapies cofounder, Dr. Gregory Park, said the climb to this peak wasn’t an easy one: Over the past year, the dispensary navigated their way to a nearly perfect score from the DOH — 510 out of a possible 520. They led the way as the first dispensary given permission to start cultivating in February, and now they’ve completed the first legal cannabis sales in the history of Hawaii.
“It’s been a long, winding road to get here and we’re extremely excited,” Park said. “We want to thank State Senator Roz Baker and Representative Della Bellati for their leadership and the Department of Health for establishing high compliance standards for this emerging industry. Getting to this day required hard work, cooperation and patience, but it’s worth it to be able to bring this alternative therapy to our Maui community.”
Michael Backes, the author of Cannabis Pharmacy, developed the curriculum and trained Maui Grown Therapies employees himself during a company training academy in July.
You can’t have a regulated market without lab testing, and that is no longer an issue in the Aloha State: Steep Hill — a foundational cannabis testing lab that’s led the way in testing and analytics (and a whole bunch of other crazy weed science) — has received the first testing license issued by the DOH.
Keith Ridley, Chief of DOH’s Office of Health Care Assurance, oversees the medical cannabis dispensary program.
“We realize that registered patients and caregivers and some of the licensed dispensaries have been waiting for a laboratory to become operational to test medical cannabis prior to consumption and sale,” he said. “This is a major step forward as it allows the dispensaries to now begin testing their products to sell to qualified patients.”
Steep Hill was licensed under interim administrative rules for the medical cannabis dispensary program, which allows them to conduct specific tests required to ensure the safety of products going to Hawaiian patients.
Steep Hill Hawaii CEO Dana Ciccone said full cannabinoid and terpene profiles will also be available to dispensaries and the public.
“We are proud to be the first cannabis lab to be licensed in the State of Hawaii. Our lab will run full-service testing for cannabinoid profile (potency), terpenes, pesticides, heavy metals, biological screening, and residual solvents,” Ciccone said. “We can test for 20 Cannabinoids and 43 terpenes.”
Chris Whelen, chief of the DOH’s State Laboratories Division, said more testing labs are currently being certified.
“Certification follows a rigorous scientific process that requires meticulous attention to detail and constant refining to ensure product and patient safety,” Whelen said. “Our State Laboratories Division team is currently working closely with two other private independent labs to help them obtain certification. They are continuing to submit or resubmit their validation studies for certification.”
According to advocates, one of the major hurdles for progress over the years had been law enforcement. Ever since Hawaii enacted its medical marijuana laws various law enforcement organizations have been staunchly opposed. At one point officers in uniform were caught handing out flyers advocating against medical cannabis access.
UPDATE: Maui Grown had to suspend sales five days after opening because of issues with the DOH’s Lab Division, which was unable to certify new inventory when the dispensary sold out.
TELL US, are you more likely to visit Hawaii now that the state has dispensaries?