HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A private laboratory on Oahu has been certified by the state Department of Health to begin testing medical cannabis products, a long-awaited next step that brings Hawaii's eight dispensaries closer to completing their first sales, which could be as early as mid-August.
Steep Hill Hawaii, a Honolulu-based firm, was granted a provisional certificate on Monday after successfully demonstrating a "capacity and proficiency to test cannabis" and make sure marketed products are in compliance with state law.
Once samples are received, lab technicians will first test for heavy metals.
"That includes cadmium, lead, arsenic and mercury," said Caleb King, vice president of scientific operations.
King anticipates roadblocks at this stage since he says testing for heavy metals is unique to Hawaii.
"Dispensaries won't be growing outside, but for locals who want to bring in samples for testing, lava rock releases a lot of heavy metals," King said. "Heavy metals is a new thing, you don't see it as much on the mainland."
Samples will undergo a series of additional tests, including checking for microbes and pesticides, which can take up to four days.
Once cleared, the product will be returned to dispensaries for sale, after the DOH does one final inspection.
"Some of the cleanest cannabis in the nation will be sold out here in Hawaii," King said.
The much-anticipated certification is good news for Paul Klink of Honolulu Wellness Center, who says his patients have been waiting for the medicine to become legally available.
"The hardest part is for patients who really can't grow their own or have someone do it for them," Klink said.
King said if samples don't pass the tests, it's up to the dispensaries to utilize the product in other ways.
The DOH says a seed-to-sale computer tracking system will ensure the process is done right.
"We want to track the chain of custody from dispensary to the lab, so we don't lose anything," said Keith Ridley, Chief of DOH's Office of Health Care Assurance. "We realize that registered patients and caregivers and some of the licensed dispensaries have been waiting for a laboratory to become operational to test medical cannabis prior to consumption and sale. This is a major step forward as it allows the dispensaries to now begin testing their products to sell to qualified patients."
Since the licensed dispensaries in Hawaii are required to have their products tested for safety prior to sale, the lack of a certified testing facility meant the dispensaries were largely without anything to sell – more than a year after the state actually green-lit the sale of cannabis in Hawaii.
"Certification follows a rigorous scientific process that requires meticulous attention to detail and constant refining to ensure product and patient safety," said Chris Whelen, chief of DOH's State Laboratories Division.
The state's two remaining labs are expected to be certified soon; the Department of Health says it is currently working with two others independent facilities to help them obtain certification.