State's first medical marijuana dispensary to open Thursday – but it won't be selling pot

Updated: Jun. 6, 2017 at 6:11 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When Hawaii's first medical marijuana dispensary opens its doors on Thursday, there will be one major item missing from its sellable inventory: medical marijuana.

That's because after months of discussion and lobbying, the state labs charged with testing marijuana products prior to sale still haven't been certified.

Unable to actually sell pot, Aloha Green, the soon-to-open dispensary in the Interstate Building on South King Street, will instead use its commercial space for patient outreach services and informational public visits.

"Once they saw that it wasn't this dingy, scary place, then they started to see it's something legitimate that will provide relief for a lot of patients," said Tai Cheng, Chief Operating Officer of Aloha Green.

Once the dispensary is fully operational, only patients will be allowed inside. All patients will have to go through a metal detector at the door, then show their medical marijuana card at check-in.

They will be given a buzzer -- like the ones at restaurants -- to let them know when it's their turn to enter the back room. Once inside, patients will work with trained consultants to choose their medicine. 
Because of banking issues, all transactions will have to done in cash. Aloha Green says it has taken extra steps to ensure the safety of patients and employees.

"We will have a third party security hired that will be roving the surrounding area so they'll try to protect not only the patients, but to make sure if anything were to happen that they can respond to police," Cheng said.

The dispensaries and the labs say the delays in the state's medical marijuana program have been costly. They're spending tens of thousands of dollars every month, with no income coming in.

Cheng says Aloha Green has conducted four harvests since last month and is holding the cannabis in vacuum-sealed bags.

"It's frustrating for our team and our growers. You're able to hold that product for an extended period of time between 6-12 months, but oxidization of the product does cause it to lose not only its flavor but its efficiency as well," Cheng said.

The health department says it is still awaiting results to show that the labs can accurately test cannabis products and hopes to have them up and running by summer.

"It has to be done in the right way and we think we're going about a very deliberate path to make sure the law is followed," said Keith Ridley, chief of the health department's Office of Health Care Assurance.

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