It was sixteen years ago that Hawaii joined the ranks of states that decided that medical marijuana should be legal to patients who would benefit from it. However, like some other states in the earliest years of legalization, they did not know the best way to go about providing legal access for the patients in need. This led to the state having thousands of registered patients who could only legally access medical cannabis by growing it themselves. Outside of growing, the black market has been the only way for registered patients to get their medicine for over a decade.
Last year, lawmakers in Hawaii finally took it upon themselves to bring a medical marijuana market to their state – finally giving patients the legal and safe access they deserve. The new laws not only created a legal market to grow and sell medical cannabis, but it also allows advanced practice registered nurses to recommend marijuana treatment – which will help more patients become registered. Currently there is a large number of patients using medical marijuana who cannot be registered.
“It’s high time that this bill came into effect,” said Wailua Brandman, a nurse practitioner. “I have patients that have been using marijuana, not legally, because they don’t have the diagnosis yet… but the medication is working for them, and they keep asking me, can they get a card?”
Now that dispensaries have been awarded licenses, you would think it was only a matter of time before their doors were open to the 14,000 currently registered patients. Unfortunately, there is a delay that has not been a problem in any other states so far – the dispensaries are just about ready to open, but there are no labs to test their products for THC and CBD potency or unwanted metals or fungus that may end up in the plants. Without these labs, dispensaries are unable to sell any of the products they are already prepared to offer patients.
“On the dispensary front, they’re all doing their best to open their doors with as diverse a product line to serve all of the many needs of the patients and all the qualifying conditions that are out there,” said Chris Garth, executive director of the Hawaii Dispensary Alliance. “Until those products can be tested in a clinical capacity, no dispensary will be able to open their doors, no matter how perfect their product is.”
Until now, there have been no laboratories that have applied to become a part of the medical marijuana market – the main reason being the lab must meet international standards. This has made labs reluctant to apply for a license. However there is one lab, Spectra Analytical Lab, who has finally taken the leap and started an application. Though they are still in the application process, the need for a lab almost guarantees them a license if they can meet all requirements – at which point they hope they will be able to begin certifying cannabis products by December of this year.
The slow start should not be entirely unexpected – most states starting a medical marijuana program take about 1-2 years to get everything together. This ensures that everything runs smoothly, plants are tracked and patients receive medication through safer means than purchasing it on the black market. Patients have been waiting for this type of medical marijuana access in Hawaii for years – another six months is probably more of an annoyance than anything else at this point – but by the end of the year dispensaries should be preparing to open their doors with lab certified products.