It has been a long quiet summer as the dispensaries work to prepare their facilities and DOH works to administer Hawai‘i’s new medical marijuana dispensary system. Patients and the public alike are understandably curious about the progress of the system. Today, with the first session of the Hawaii State Legislative Oversight Committee of the Medical Cannabis Industry, we were given a brief public look into the industry’s current progress and what could be in store for its future.
This article will briefly introduce the Legislative Oversight Committee and your Alliance’s role in its establishment, and then provide information about everything that happened in today’s two-hour session. If you want to know what priorities the Committee will be investigating for the future of the industry, stick around till the end, and make sure to send us your comments on these issues, or any issues you think the Committee has left out, so that we can make sure your voice is heard!
Brief Background on the Alliance and the Legislative Oversight Committee
It has been an incredible honor to host your voice over the last year as we researched, drafted, presented, lobbied, and successfully passed HB 2707 (now Act 230 SLH 2016) on your behalf. This bill was just the latest major success for the Alliance and the patients, ancillary businesses, physicians, and dispensaries that contributed to our collective effort to establish a patient-centric framework for the legitimate and reasonable regulation of Hawai‘i’s Medical Cannabis Industry. The importance of this bill was felt at the first Committee hearing today, where the bill’s major successes were reviewed on three separate occasions by different individuals and organizations.
The Alliance’s first year as an organization witnessed tremendous success through the collaborative efforts you exerted to address the host of issues that confront our industry as we seek to foster a functional, robust medical cannabis economy in Hawai‘i. Due to your input, and with your support, the Alliance worked tirelessly to secure tax breaks and energy savings opportunities for our freshman class of dispensary licensees that will lower the cost of medicine for patients. We lobbied diplomatically to secure broader access to medicinal products of the utmost quality for patients. Your contributions allowed for an expansion of patients’ rights in their own homes, in their work places, and as they travel. Together, we are working to foster the higher standard of patient care that our families, our friends, and our neighbors deserve.
The Alliance’s latest opportunity to continue this campaign to bring better medicine to patients in need presented itself today with the opening meeting of the Legislative Oversight Committee established under HB2707. This panel has been delegated the task of defining and developing policy measures to further improve the legislative framework and administrative guidelines that outline our nascent patient health industry.
The following sections will detail for you exactly what happened at that meeting today!
- Representative Della Au Belatti, Co-Chair
- Senator Rosalyn Baker, Co-Chair
- Senator Kalani English
- Representative Joy San Buenaventura
- Peggy Leong, Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licensing Program Supervisor
- Scottina Ruis, Medical Marijuana Registry Program Coordinator
- Keith Ridley, Hawai‘i Department of Health, Office of Healthcare Assurance
- Christopher Garth, Executive Director, Hawai‘i Dispensary Alliance
- Thayne Taylor, Neighboring County Member of the Hawai‘i Dispensary Alliance
- Carl Bergquist, Drug Policy Forum
- Wendy Gibson, Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawai‘i
- Michael Takano, Pono Life Sciences, Maui CountyDispensary
- Richard Ha, Lau Ola, Hawai‘i County Dispensary
- Greg Yim, Doctor
- Stacy Karcher, APRN/RX
- Thomas Wills, University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center
- John-Paul Bingham, University of Hawai‘i, College of Tropical Agriculture
- Patricia Wilson, Honolulu Police Department
- Calvin Tong, Honolulu Police Department
- Michael Contrades, Kauai Police Department
- Rob Lee, Department of Transportation, Airports Division
The working group’s final membership is still being finalized; not yet seated, or at least not explicitly represented, a representative of a laboratory capable of testing marijuana, a patient, a guardian of a patient under the age of 18, and a primary caregiver.
The working group is administered by Dr. Susan Chandler and the University of Hawai‘i Public Policy Center, with assistance from Center Director Collin Moore and Dr. Michelle Ibanez.
The Meeting Introduction
The meeting began with an introduction from Co-Chair Representative Della Au Belatti, welcoming everyone to the first gathering of the Legislative Oversight Committee and reviewing for the record the successes and provisions of HB2707, now Act 230 SLH 2016.
Dr. Susan Chandler opened with a brief recitation of the ground rules for the meeting and an invitation for public participation, noting that all materials would be posted on the Public Policy Center’s website. If you would like to participate in future committee meetings (held monthly, look for our announcements in the coming weeks!), please make sure you are familiar with these rules so that the industry will continue to act with decorum as we work to change the hearts and minds of the public, and even some of the Committee members.
- Participation is encouraged from every Committee member and from the audience
- Air-time will be given to all as time allows, but will be moderated for redundancy
- Please be open to learning from the information presented at the meeting
- Please speak one at a time, no interruptions
- Please respect confidentiality, as requested (the meetings are open by default, but some information may be requested to be kept confidential in the future)
- Please stick to the themes/topics under discussion during any particular agenda item
- Please help us begin to prioritize the issues for the Committee to address
- Please silence all electronic devices in the conference room
You are welcome to join the Alliance at any upcoming Legislative Oversight Committee meeting to hear first hand the progress being made and to make your own contribution.
The DOH Update
While not quite the main event of the day, one of the most important elements of the meeting was the presentation made by DOH concerning the current status of both the Medical Marijuana Registry Program and the Medical Marijuana Dispensary System. If you wanted to know where things are at with the dispensaries, or how long it will take to get your certification, here are your answers.
Keith Ridley, from the Office of Healthcare Assurance, began by introducing the Foundation Principles on which the Department is basing its current rules and administration of the program:
- Patient Safety
- Product Safety
- Public Safety
Medical Marijuana Registry Program
Scottina Ruis, the Medical Marijuana Registry Program Coordinator followed up with an overview and history of Hawai‘i’s Medical Marijuana Registry program, its move to DOH, and the current laws impacting patients – all detailed on DOH’s Medical Marijuana Registry website. Mrs. Ruis emphasized a few of the upcoming elements of the current system the Registry Division was preparing for, including the investigation of reciprocity with other states in the beginning of 2018 and the phasing out of the caregiver program at the end of 2018.
Mrs. Ruis next provided some useful, updated Registry Program Statistics:
- The Division currently processes ~1,200 registrations per month, a 25% increase over the beginning of 2016
- On Sept 30, 2016, Hawai‘i has 14,638 registered patients (anticipates this number will double)
- Patients are currently registered by 98 physicians statewide
- 62% of patients are over the age of 42
- Less than 1% of patients (.19%) are minors
- The patient base exhibits a 2:1 male to female ratio
- 90% of patients indicate chronic pain as a reason for their certification, though many list other qualifying ailments as well
- Only 10% of patients are currently registered with a caregiver
- Current wait time for medical registry cards – 18 business days
As the Registry Program moves into the future, they currently have only 4 full-time staff, they have been approved for 1 more to start in January 2017, and will ask for 2 more to start in January 2018. But they are at capacity now, as evidenced by the length of time required to approve and renew certifications. In the future the Registry Program will:
- Prioritize certifications for cancer patients and minors
- Update their change of information process to an electronic system
- Allow for email and mailing address verification to speed up the process
The Registry Program is currently waiting for new rule changes to allow them to interact with other states and the federal government as a prelude to reciprocity with other states.
Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licensing Program
Keith Ridley returned to detail the organization of the medical marijuana program under the Department of Health, situating the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licensing Program under the Office of Healthcare Assurance. The Licensing Program has 5 staff, with Peggy Leong as the Supervisor, and under her are 2 Surveyors/Inspectors, 1 Accountant, and 1 Secretary. They have been working hard to meet the statutory timelines, and have generally been quite successful. After briefly reviewing the timeline of the program and the dispensary regulations, Mr. Ridley discussed the current status of the dispensaries and their progress in meeting DOH’s licensing requirements.
- The Department has approved 8 production center sites, one for each dispensary licensee
- 3 of those production sites are completed or close to completion
- The Department has approved 8 dispensing locations: 2 for one licensee, 1 for six licensees, and 0 for one licensee
- 1 of those dispensing sites is underway and close to completion
- The Narcotics Enforcement Division has to issue a certification for each location – both for production and for dispensing sites. So far they have issued 3 certifications
- 1 Dispensary successfully petitioned the Department of Agriculture to add a new non-soil growth mixture to the allowable imports list
- 1 Dispensary is ready to begin cultivation (pending DOH implementation of a tracking system)
The Department has not issued any notices to proceed and no dispensary has legally started cultivation yet. There are currently two hurdles the dispensaries must cross before beginning cultivation:
- DOH must finalize its contract for a seed-to-sale tracking system with BioTrac and implement at least the production side of that system. DOH anticipates the contract to be finalized within a week, and the implementation of the system to begin shortly thereafter, with limited capability available within a month (allowing the dispensaries to begin cultivation) and full implementation of the system, and integration with the dispensary POS systems and DOH Registry System, completed within two to three months.
- DOH is currently working with the agencies responsible for wastewater management, indoor health, clean air, hazard evaluation and response, and environmental health regulations to create and implement an additional checklist the dispensaries must pass at each location to ensure the safety of their workers and visiting patients.
As of October 10, 2016, no laboratory has yet applied for registration as the third-party testing partner of the Department. Multiple laboratories have expressed interest on at least two different islands, with various plans to serve all of the islands.
The powerpoint of DOH’s presentation is available here, and will be available on the Public Policy Center website in the future.
After the presentation by DOH, the floor was opened for questions and the Committee was able to drill down into a few specifics regarding the reason for the timelines DOH provided for various elements of the registry system, dispensary certifications, seed-to-sale tracking system, and laboratory certifications. The Department’s responses boiled down to a lack of resources and the need to take things in phases, but that they are making progress.
Brainstorming Topics of Future Committee Action
After the presentation by DOH, the floor was opened to the Committee, and later to the audience, to suggest and generate a list of topics for the Committee to consider and evaluate in the coming two years of its operation. The topics and the person raising the issue are listed here:
- A standing time-slot for DOH to update the Committee on its status and operations at every meeting. Co-Chair Rosalyn Baker.
- Expansion of dispensary sales categories to include the sale of seeds and clones to patients. Representative Joy San Buenaventura.
- Advertising. What are the standards in other states. Currently prohibited in Hawai‘i. Thomas Wills, University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center. Echoed by Co-Chair Rosalyn Baker and Christopher Garth, Hawai‘i Dispensary Alliance.
- Education. Public education. Professional education including agricultural, medical, legal, white-collar, etc… Christopher Garth, Hawai‘i Dispensary Alliance, echoed by Wendy Gibson, Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawai‘i, Co-Chair Rosalyn Baker, and Representative Joy San Buenaventura.
- Expansion of dispensary sales categories to include medical edibles, other medicinal products, product branding and licensing, and medical devices. Christopher Garth, Hawai‘i Dispensary Alliance, echoed by Wendy Gibson, Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawai‘i.
- Expansion of the qualifying ailments list based on updated science and the experience of other states. Christopher Garth, Hawai‘i Dispensary Alliance.
- Expansion of medical education and research focus of the industry – including research into strains, grow and manufacturing processes, and medical and agriculture developments in coordination with the John A. Burns School of Medicine, the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center, and the University of Hawai‘i College of Tropical Agriculture. Co-Chair Rosalyn Baker.
- Incorporation of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo College of Pharmacy into the research agenda. Representative Joy San Buenaventura.
- Investigation into the potential for organizations to lose federal funding. Representative Joy San Buenaventura. Echoed by Christopher Garth, Hawai‘i Dispensary Alliance and Co-Chair Rosalyn Baker (who advocated for an open-minded approach, incorporating the success of other states).
- Expansion of social science research – including behavioral consequences and community impact to justify regulations or removing them. Thomas Wills, University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center.
- Implementation of reciprocity and lessons from other states. Co-Chair Della Au Belatti, echoed by Scottina Ruis, Medical Marijuana Registry Program Coordinator.
- Ideal staffing and budgeting for DOH to best meet the needs of both the Registry and Licensing programs in the future. Christopher Garth, Hawai‘i Dispensary Alliance.
- Organization of Registry and Licensing programs within DOH – possible combination. Co-Chair Della Au Belatti.
- Expansion of the definition of production and production centers. Michael Takano, Pono Life Sciences, Maui Dispensary, echoed by Christopher Garth, Hawai‘i Dispensary Alliance.
- Quicker implementation of certification process for patients. Carl Bergquist, Drug Policy Forum.
- Banking. Co-Chair Rosalyn Baker.
- Pushing back the caregiver phase-out past the end of 2018 and analysis of the issue of stacking grow sites on the same land. Co-Chair Della Au Bellati, in conversation with Scottina Ruis, Medical Marijuana Registry Program Coordinator and Representative Joy San Buenaventura.
- Potential for a horizontal licensing scheme as opposed to a vertical licensing scheme in the future. Representative Joy San Buenaventura, echoed by Co-Chair Della Au Bellati.
- Inclusion of the medical community – Hawai‘i Medical Association and the Hawai‘i Nurses Association on the panel. Evaluation of the response of the medical community and update to the ailments lists. Greg Yim, Doctor, echoed by Scottina Ruis, Medical Marijuana Registry Program Coordinator and Senator Rosalyn Baker, Co-Chair.
- Evaluation of current safety and testing standards to better protect patients and make sure that dispensaries cannot buy positive test results. Richard Ha, Lau Ola, Big Island Dispensary.
- The potential to narrow laboratory protocols early on to streamline the process and make it more certain for dispensaries. Michael Takano, Pono Life Sciences, Maui Dispensary.
- Incorporation of the Cancer Consortium into the education and research elements of the Committee’s agenda. Thomas Wills, University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center.
- Inter-island patient transportation. Carl Bergquist, Drug Policy Forum.
- Expansion of the definition of production facilities and premises to benefit patients – better access and accommodations. Christopher Garth, Hawai‘i Dispensary Alliance, echoed by the audience.
- Clarification of extraction technologies and rules. Audience topic (HDA member).
- Delivery services and accessibility concerns. Audience topic (HDA member).
After the brainstorming session it was announced that the topics will be compiled by the Public Policy Center and submitted to the Committee members to evaluate the relative attention to give to each issue in upcoming meetings. The next meeting will be in November, and upcoming meetings will feature present ations from each of the dispensaries in turn. You can find out more here on the Alliance website, on our Facebook page, or on the Public Policy Center website as new information is released.
Now What? Let Us Know What You Think!
Now it is your turn! The Legislative Oversight Committee will generate the successful legislative and administrative progress the industry needs in the coming years, and this is your opportunity to guide our hand. The Alliance leadership wants to solicit your thoughts, comments, and detailed considerations for any and all of these committee priorities that you would like to see action or deliberation on. What did we miss? What do you think we should emphasize? Your suggestions will be incorporated into the Alliance’s approach to the issues before the Legislative Oversight Committee.
We want to know what you think! Email us at email@example.com if you have any suggestions or comments, find us on Facebook, Contact Us through this website, or give us a call anytime. You are invited to be as broad or specific with your submissions as possible.
Mahalo nui for your continued support as we build a better future for Hawai‘i’s legitimate cannabis industry!
It is the Alliance’s mission to provide up-to-date and relevant industry information to the patients, dispensary applicants, and related businesses of Hawai‘i’s growing medicinal cannabis industry. If you are not yet an Alliance member, join today to receive the HDA Industry Update every month and to take an active role in the future of Hawai‘i’s medical marijuana industry. Contact us today and we will send you the April 2016 edition of the HDA Industry Update absolutely free to say thank you for your interest!