HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state's Medical Marijuana Registry office only has a handful of workers, and they're responsible for keeping up with the growing demand for medical marijuana cards.
The small staff processes and verifies approximately 1,200 applications a month. Once patients get a card, they're allowed to legally obtain medical marijuana.
"Every single app that comes in has to be reviewed before it can either be issued or returned," registry program coordinator Scottina Ruis said.
A year ago, applications were being processed in about 42 days. Ruis said an online system has dropped wait time significantly.
Now, it's about 15 working days. But it can be longer if there's an error on the form.
"Their card needs to be accurate because if they get stopped by a law enforcement officer they have to produce that card and it must match their ID," she said.
Physician Clifton Otto tracks his patients' wait times to get their medical marijuana cards. One patient who suffers from glaucoma waited 28 days.
"For a glaucoma patient, having elevated eye pressures for 28 days, this could result in permanent blindness," he said.
He says his patient's application form was free of errors.
Otto believes to eliminate delays, certification and registration should happen simultaneously
"Even with all those advancements we still have to wonder why patients need to wait at all," he said.
Meanwhile, Ruis said another reason for delays is simply the high demand for the cards. The volume slows down the system.
"I would be happy with a three- to five-day turnaround time just given some of the challenges we've had with staffing, with filling positions," she said.
State Sen. Will Espero, vice chair of the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee, said it will only get more challenging for the state when Hawaii's dispensaries open.
"We are expecting that there's a strong possibility that you're going to see an upsurge in medical marijuana patients and applications," he said.
Carl Bergquist, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said a patient in pain or dealing with nausea "and who chooses medical cannabis, deserves relief as quickly as as those who resort to medications like opiods that often are dangerous and addictive."
For her part, Ruis said she and her staff are working as quickly as they can.
"We care about the patients and we care about public safety. I do believe we will be able to make it even better," she said.