East Hawaii News

DOH Faces Challenges Ahead of Marijuana Dispensary Announcement

April 8, 2016, 2:31 PM HST
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California State University file image.

California State University file image.

The Hawai’i Department of Health says it remains on track to announce who will be receiving the eight medical marijuana dispensary licenses across the state.

Friday’s announcement comes as DOH admits that there have been delays involving fingerprinting and background checks.

An e-mail was sent Thursday night to every applicant, stating that they, along with “members and others required to be fingerprinted pursuant to Section 329D, Hawai’i Revised Statutes and Chapter 11-850 of the Hawai’i Administrative Rules shall complete the attached consent and complete the background check by Tuesday April 12, 2016.”

“The process to select licensees involves coordination of several complex systems that required multiple levels of testing, including the fingerprinting and background checks. The applicants were aware from the start that this was a requirement and we appreciate their cooperation and efforts in complying as quickly as possible,” said Peggy Leong, Supervisor of the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licensing Program. “We know that this is not an ideal situation for them, but if the applicants are not able to comply with the short turnaround time, or the Department is unable to review the background check results when they are received, we may need to wait to announce the final selection.”

Prior to the DOH’s clarification on the fingerprinting requirement, the Hawai’i Dispensary Alliance raised its concern over what it called the “11th hour” e-mail, saying that it “effectively scuttled its own medical marijuana dispensary selection process.”

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Among its concerns, HDA said that it means that the background checks and fingerprints would not only come from local applicants locally, but also from others from the mainland and other countries that are named in their applications, including Canada and Japan. And, the trade association claims that the e-mail created confusion in regards to access to Fieldprint, a website that manages fingerprinting and identity management.

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HDA says that does not argue the need for fingerprinting and consent, but its fear is that the current time-frame to get everything in could cause some applicants to be denied an opportunity to earn their dispensary licenses.

“Without some form of explanation or extension, obtaining this information for potentially dozens of people in a mere five-day window over a weekend at limited fingerprinting locations will simply be impossible for many  applicants,” said HDA Executive Director Christopher Garth. “The Department of Health must either act now to address the issue they created, or act later to defend the lawsuits which will sink Hawai‘i’s medical marijuana program before it even starts.”

“We knew from the start that the timelines in the statute were very tight, but we were committed to doing our best to meet them, and so far we have been able to do so,” said DOH Director of Health Dr. Virginia Pressler. “We are pushing ahead with the selection and doing everything possible to make the announcement by the April 15 deadline set out in the statute.  But we would rather have a good result than release the names prematurely just to meet an arbitrary deadline.”

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Two of the eight medical marijuana dispensary licenses will be awarded to Big Island and Maui County applicants. Three of them will be awarded in the City and County of Honolulu, and one more will be awarded on Kauai.

The application selection process will be short one member for the remainder of the process. Dr. John Fisher, the scientific director of Keystone Laboratories and a lab inspector for the College of American Pathologists, is no longer a part of the process, which DOH says was not of any fault of his own.

“It has just recently come to my attention that Dr. John Fisher, through no fault on his part, was not able to continue with his review.  I’m not at liberty to share more details, in the interest of Dr. Fisher’s privacy. We thank him for his time and assistance to date and wish him well,” Leong explained.

No one will replace Dr. Fisher on the panel, and the remaining four members – H. David Bess, James E. Duffy, Jr., Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, and Keith R. Ridley – will remain on the selection panel.

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