Maui marijuana dispensary gets OK to grow

Medical-grade cannabis could be available as early as this summer

Medical marijuana sales could begin this summer on Maui after one of the island’s two licensed dispensaries received approval Wednesday to begin cultivation.

The state Department of Health issued “Notices to Proceed to Acquire and Cultivate Marijuana” to Maui Grown Therapies and Aloha Green Holdings Inc. on Oahu. The notices followed inspections of both groups’ production centers as part of the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licensing Program.

The Maui group’s first medical cannabis harvest is expected in the next several months.

“It’s an exciting day,” said Teri Freitas Gorman, director of community relations and patient affairs for Maui Grown Therapies. “It’s all hands on deck for sure.”

The company is authorized to acquire and grow marijuana seeds, clones and plants for the purpose of providing marijuana and marijuana products to patients registered with the Health Department’s Medical Marijuana Patient Registry Program, the department said in a news release.

Each dispensary licensee is allowed to operate two production centers and two retail sites. Each center can grow up to 3,000 marijuana plants.

The department inspected three dispensary production centers in January. All licensees must meet statutory and regulatory requirements, which include building a secure and enclosed indoor facility requiring clearance from the state Department of Public Safety Narcotics Enforcement Division following an inspection.

“Our staff has been working diligently to schedule and conduct inspections on multiple islands while completing training and testing of the seed-to-sale tracking system, which is critical to all dispensary processes and required by law,” said Keith R. Ridley, chief of the state Office of Health Care Assurance. “Today’s milestone is a major step forward, and the state and dispensaries have worked very hard to get to this point. There’s still much more work ahead as we take all the necessary steps to ensure safe products for Hawaii patients.”

Maui’s other dispensary, Pono Life Maui, is scheduled to be inspected in the next few days, company officials said Wednesday.

“We are working very closely with the state Department of Health and commend them for their efforts,” company licensee Dr. William Mitchell said in an email. “They want to initiate this program responsibly, and we support their safe and thoughtful process. We look forward to being able to provide these natural therapies for patients in the Maui community.”

For Maui Grown Therapies, a lot of production site work needs to be done, and officials are double checking standard operating procedures for security, Freitas Gorman said. She said the company will begin cultivation “imminently.”

The company is looking to post job openings in the coming weeks on its website. Plans call for about 25 total staff at its first dispensary in the Maui Lani Village Center at 44 Paa St. and another 20 at the second to-be-announced site.

Freitas Gorman said the company plans to announce the location of the second site later this year.

“We’re pacing ourselves because there’s really no way to know what the future holds,” she said.

Maui Grown Therapies’ Kula production center is 100 percent self-sufficient and powered by polycrystalline solar panels that convert photons into electricity for storage in commercial lithium ion battery stacks, Freitas Gorman said. The batteries can store up to 1 megawatt of electricity.

“It’s quite a bit of storage we have,” she said. “For us to be able to generate our own energy at a fixed cost will really, at the end of the day, deliver excellent value to our patients.”

John Bews, energy and ecosystems engineer for the group, said power is typically the second highest operating expense for cannabis producers – even in places like Denver, where electricity expenses are 70 percent lower than Maui’s 40 cents per kilowatt hour.

“Our phase 1 solar plant, which is big enough to power 650 homes, reduces energy to a fraction of what we otherwise pay using MECO,” Bews said in a news release.

Water conservation also is built into the system with the production center capturing and reusing all of its water. Multiple climate control units turn the used water into distilled water, which re-waters the plants.

“It’s kind of a closed cycle, like how nature is,” Freitas Gorman said.

The long-awaited approval follows last month’s launch of the seed-to-sale tracking system. The software provides the Health Department with daily, 24-hour access to near real-time data of marijuana seed, plant and product inventory; sales; waste disposal; and other required information.

All dispensaries are required to integrate their product tracking systems with the state’s computer system. Other dispensaries on Oahu and Kauai have requested inspections this month with ones located on the Big Island expected to be ready later this year.

The department’s next step will be to inspect and approve retail dispensary locations. It also will need to interface the tracking system with the existing patient registry system and review and certify laboratories to conduct product testing.

More than 15,000 medical marijuana patients are registered with the Health Department, and dispensaries will be required to verify the identities of registered patients and caregivers before they enter a retail dispensing location, according to the department news release.

The state’s computer tracking system will trace the amounts of products registered patients and caregivers purchase through an interface with the patient registry system that is currently in development.

The Health Department’s Laboratories Division is reviewing applications from private laboratories, which test the potency and purity of marijuana drugs. Dispensaries are required to send all products and plants to a third-party lab for testing.

San Diego-based PharmLabs Hawaii LLC has established a lab near Target in Kahului and has already applied for a license. Company officials said last week they were awaiting their final audit and should be licensed soon.

For more information on the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program, visit health.hawaii.gov/medicalmarijuanadispensary/.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.


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