State hopes to have medical marijuana testing labs certified by June

Updated: May. 11, 2017 at 4:35 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now/File)
(Image: Hawaii News Now/File)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Medical marijuana dispensaries have been allowed to grow plants in Hawaii since January, but until the state certifies labs that will be charged with testing it, patients remain clueless as to when they'll actually be able to obtain the drug.

The state health department requires dispensaries that grow marijuana to have labs verify a product's safety before it can be given to a patient. Officials say they expect to have all the marijuana testing labs certified by June.

"These are not like home pregnancy tests. These are multi-million dollar operations," said Chris Whelen, the Department of Health's Administrator for State Labs. "So its sophisticated analytical chemistry."

The labs will test the weed in a variety of areas – for everything from pesticides and mold to levels of heavy metals and overall potency – and each strain must be certified by the state in each area.

But sources within the new industry say there's growing concern that the state is taking too long to certify the labs.

"Everybody wants things to go faster," said Whelen, when those concerns were relayed to him Thursday.

One idea the state is considering, in order to get testing started sooner, is to have one lab test the marijuana for the categories it is certified for and another lab, that is certified in the remaining categories, finish the testing.

"The product needs to be certified for all (compounds), doesn't mean the same lab has to do everything," Whelen said. "In some cases, they're business competitors, but it's a laboratory network."

Kerry Komatsubara, of the Hawaii Education Association for Licensed Therapeutic Healthcare, the trade organization that represents the eight medical marijuana dispensaries, issued the following statement regarding the lab certification process:

"We at HEALTH are waiting for clarification from DOH regarding its lab testing program for medical marijuana. The medical marijuana dispensaries are hopeful of receiving guidance from DOH soon."

At any rate, one testing laboratory that Hawaii News Now spoke with said they're in their final validation studies – and that final calibration for their instrumentation is expected soon.

"Just like anything, hindsight is 20-20, so obviously things could have been streamlined a little better," said Michael Covington, the Senior Chemist at Steep Hill Hawaii. "But since it's the new market and everything's just coming in, there's been a few hiccups. But overall I'm satisfied with the process."

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