Most of Hawaii's medical marijuana dispensaries are still trying to recover nearly a week after a sudden setback.
Seven of the eight dispensaries relied on the state's largest workers' compensation insurer for coverage. Hawaii Employers' Mutual Insurance Company recently sent them 30-day policy cancellation letters. The trade association that represents the dispensaries said they're scrambling to secure other workers' comp coverage.
"It's a setback because everybody is busy trying to get open. I don't think it's insurmountable," said Kerry Komatsubara of the Hawaii Educational Association for Licensed Therapeutic Healthcare, the trade association that represents the dispensaries.
Big Island licensee Richard Ha said he happened to be switching from HEMIC to another provider when the company sent out a news release about the decision.
"This is what really irks me. What is at stake is, when they announce it on TV or a press release, it makes other people feel like maybe they should not do business with us, too," said Ha, chief executive officer of Lau Ola LLC.
A legal evaluation raised concerns about potential criminal liability, according to HEMIC. Marijuana is illegal under federal law. HEMIC's chief executive officer, Marty Welch, said the company wanted to publicly explain the decision to prevent false conclusions by others.
"There was no intent to harm the medical marijuana industry in any way, certainly not the patients. In fact, we understand and appreciate the medicinal value medical marijuana has in relieving chronic pain and other medical ailments. This was also a message we conveyed when we announced our decision," said Welch in a statement.
Maui Grown Therapies is the only dispensary that didn't obtain coverage through HEMIC. While waiting for the state to certify a lab for product testing, the business plans to start individual patient consultations in a couple of weeks.
"We'll give them an ID. We'll also ask them questions and talk to them about just getting them ready for this whole process," said Dr. Greg Yim, chief medical officer for Maui Grown Therapies.
Three labs have applied for certification. Based on the validation studies and information submitted, the Hawaii Department of Health now anticipates that a lab may be approved later this summer.
The number of medical marijuana patients continues to rise, with 17,591 registered as of June 30.