Hawaii's medical marijuana dispensaries could soon be moving a step closer to their first sales. More than a year after the state began allowing the sale of medical cannabis, the businesses are still waiting to cash in.
A few have harvested crops, but the state has yet to certify a lab for testing samples. Facing growing pressure, the Hawaii Department of Health told the state's medical marijuana dispensary task force on Wednesday that progress has been made.
"I think there is a very good chance of having at least a provisionally certified lab by the end of this month, if not by the end of next week," said Keith Ridley, chief of the Office of Health Care Assurance at the Hawaii Department of Health.
Some people are wondering what is causing the hold up, since health officials provided a different timetable to the task force three months ago.
"We anticipate that there will be at least one certified private laboratory in operation before summer," said Ridley during the task force's meeting on April 17.
The state is reviewing validation studies from three labs. Two of them are on Oahu and one is on Maui. The facilities need to prove that they can reliably produce accurate data. A provisional certification may mean that a lab could only perform some of the required testing for different substances, including pesticides and heavy metals.
"It's conceivable that a product may have to be tested at a couple of labs, where no one lab is doing all of the tests," explained Ridley.
But officials from PharmLabs Hawaii, one of the three labs applying for certification, have concerns.
"I think that's going to be very difficult, given that each lab may have their own standards or their own validations for each of the tests," said chief administrative officer Michael Rollins.
The state is also tackling other issues, including drafting protocols for inter-island transport to labs and testing the seed-to-sale tracking system. In the meantime, dispensaries continue to lose money without any sales.
"It's not just money, but you're forcing patients to buy product from the black market which currently has a monopoly," said Kerry Komatsubara, executive director of the Hawaii Education Association for Licensed Therapeutic Healthcare, a trade association formed by the dispensaries.