Panel to decide who gets marijuana dispensary licenses includes ag expert, retired judge

Panel to decide who gets marijuana dispensary licenses includes ag expert, retired judge
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The five members selected to serve on the state's panel to review Hawaii's first medical marijuana dispensary licenses include a business professor, a retired judge and the scientific director of a North Carolina-based drug testing lab.

The state Department of Health released the names of the panel members Monday after initially saying their identities would remain secret until after the body grants its first dispensary licenses.

Dr. Virginia Pressler, director of the Health Department, said in a statement Monday morning that it is "critical that the selection process be as fair and objective as possible and free from improper outside influence."

She added, "It is equally important that the process be as transparent as possible without compromising its integrity."

The panel members are:

  • David Bess, a professor of management and transportation at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Bess has more than 40 years of experience in administrative positions at the University of Hawaii, and serves on the boards of AlohaCare, the Hawaii Chapter of the American Red Cross, and the Japan-America Institute of Management Science Foundation.
  • James E. Duffy, Jr., a retired Hawaii State Supreme Court associate justice. Duffy was a founding member of the firm Fujiyama Duffy and Fujiyama and a trial lawyer for 35 years. He is a past president of the Hawaii State Bar Association.
  • John Fisher III, the scientific director of North Carolina-based Keystone Laboratories and a lab inspector for the College of American Pathologists.
  • Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, the deputy to the chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture. A long time agriculture advocate, she served as president of Mikilua Poultry Farm in Waianae and vice president of the Associated Producers Corp. in Honolulu.
  • Keith R. Ridley, chief of the state Health Department’s Office of Health Care Assurance. Ridley has more than 30 years of management experience, including as the former chief executive officer of a rural acute care hospital.

Last month, the state released a list of the 66 applicants for Hawaii's eight medical marijuana dispensaries. Applicants included local business leaders, a retired medical center executive and Hollywood actor (and part-time Maui resident) Woody Harrelson.

The panel will decide by April 15 which of the applicants will be awarded a dispensary license. Each licensee will be allowed to run up to two production centers and two dispensaries.

The state Health Department had wanted to keep the names of the panel members secret.

Ridley, the panel member, previously told Hawaii News Now, "There is a concern about objectivity if panel members' names were to be released prematurely."

DOH officials say vetting the panelists was challenging but necessary to ensure there were no conflicts of interests.

"This process has been under the microscope from the very beginning," said Danette Wong Tomiyasu, deputy director of the state health department's Health Resources Administration. "We have worked in the department very hard to ensure three particular areas that we felt were a priority -- it's patient safety, public safety and product safety. In addition, we wanted to ensure the process itself had integrity and transparency,"

Panelists are volunteers. They'll review and score each applicant, and the eight highest scores will be awarded a license.

Lawmakers say additional licenses could be issued in subsequent years.

In the meantime, applicants have been warned they can't contact the panelists or attempt to discuss the process in any way or they'll be disqualified

"I know that given just the quality and caliber of these individuals, I know that they're going to try their hardest," said state Rep. Della Au Belatti, who chairs the House Health Committee. "Is it a tight deadline? It is. It's an aggressive timeline and we know that, but I think they fact that they've been paneled at this point in time - it's a good sign."

State Sen. John Green, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said he's looking to ensure the process is handled efficiently.

"It's really important to get started and it's important that over the next three weeks they make those choices and I'm hopeful that by July the dispensaries that get chosen will be providing medicine for people," he said.

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