HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State lawmakers slammed the state Department of Health on Wednesday for its slow approval of medical marijuana cultivation.
The lawmakers said some dispensaries that are ready to grow are stuck with costly delays because the state hasn't given permission to any of the eight licensees to begin cultivating cannabis. Some dispensaries are even facing layoffs.
DOH officials faced the tough questions during a Medical Marijuana Legislative Oversight Working Group meeting.
"I'm just trying to figure out what's taking it so long cause I really don't think this is rocket science," said state Sen. Roz Baker (South and West Maui).
Maui Grown Therapies is almost done with its first dispensary storefront site, which is located at 44 Paa St. in the Maui Lani Village Center.
The company also has a production facility in Kula, but it's waiting for final approval from the state to actually start cultivation.
"We have been ready to go since the summertime," said Teri Freitas Gorman, director of community relations and patient affairs for Maui Grown Therapies. "It has been difficult waiting this long, but we understand the Department of Health's need to make sure that everything is in place prior to starting."
Another dispensary licensee, Aloha Green Holdings, expected to start selling medical marijuana this month.
"We're looking at laying off our growers in the next few weeks because there is no work for them right now to start growing," said co-founder Tai Cheng.
DOH officials said a contract was signed for seed-to-sale tracking software, but the system won't be ready for the licensees to plug into for a couple more months.
"The law says the dispensary systems must tie into the state's tracking system," said Keith Ridley, DOH's Office of Health Care Assurance chief.
Ridley told lawmakers that DOH employees have been busy dealing with legal issues and that there was no way to speed up the approval process.
"It would require us not responding to hearing requests or lawsuits that we've had. There are a number of things that have engaged our staff," he said.
Once the licensees receive permission to start cultivation, it will take three to four months before any cannabis products are ready for sale.
That timeline is far too slow for medical marijuana advocates.
"If somebody needs medical marijuana, they are in excruciating pain which is real and now. It's debilitating. To know that I have to go through that because these groups haven't figured out a legal workaround for paragraph 4D is really hard to sit there and listen to it," said medical marijuana patient Ron Cannarella.
The marijuana also needs to be tested by a state-certified lab. The health department has only received two applications.