Patients greet the state’s first cannabis dispensary with smiles

Maui Grown Therapies begins sales in Kahului

Fred Rickert, the first patient to purchase medical marijuana from a dispensary in the state, shows the jar containing dried medical cannabis flowers to curious members of the media at Maui Grown Therapies on Tuesday afternoon. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — Patients rejoiced with smiles and shouts Tuesday after making the first legal purchases of medical cannabis at a licensed dispensary in the state at Maui Grown Therapies in Kahului.

The Maui dispensary, one of two licensed on the island, got the green light from the state Department of Health on Tuesday morning to be the first dispensary in the state to begin sales of medical cannabis. It has been 17 years since the state allowed ill patients to use medical marijuana, but there were no easy legal ways to obtain the plant.

“Woo-hoo,” shouted Mike Herbert of Kihei as he walked to his sport utility vehicle in the retail dispensary’s parking lot at the Maui Lani Village Center around noon.

“It’s a dream come true for the people of Hawaii,” Herbert said moments earlier as he was the second patient to emerge from Maui Grown’s retail dispensary.

The 54-year-old held up a small brown shopping bag containing a white plastic container with his medical cannabis. (The Department of Health said the medical cannabis must be in a sealed container and not visible to the public when it’s being brought home from a dispensary.)

Fred Rickert holds a bag containing his dried medical cannabis flowers, the only product the Health Department approved because it has not certified a lab for manufactured cannabis products. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Herbert said he no longer needs to grow his own cannabis to treat his pain.

For Kula resident Mark Grant, having the dispensaries decriminalizes his self-medication routine. Otherwise, he’d risk arrest and prosecution for obtaining the drug if he were not able to grow it himself or get it from a caretaker.

“Today’s the day I’m going to get out of the dark,” he said.

The 52-year-old said he never knew the concentrations of cannabis he was receiving when purchasing from others. But with a licensed dispensary he is able to monitor the amounts of medical cannabis he is taking.

He takes the marijuana because he does not want to be dependent on opioids, now a national epidemic.

Teri Freitas Gorman, Maui Grown Therapies director of community relations and patient affairs, welcomes the first two patients to receive medical marijuana in the state under a new dispensary licensing program on Tuesday. The first two registered patients to receive medical marijuana products were Fred Rickert (left) and Mark Grant. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

He said he lost a family member to an opioid overdose. Marijuana provides a better alternative, he said.

The men were part of a six-person line outside Maui Grown Tuesday around 11 a.m., just about two hours after the dispensary got the OK from the state. Other patients trickled in as their appointment times neared.

“It took a lot of work to get here,” said an excited but busy Teri Freitas Gorman, director of community relations and patient affairs. She handled multiple calls, even from the Mainland, a half-hour after the news broke.

The approval came after the dispensary completed laboratory testing requirements and passed its final on-site inspection Monday morning.

Maui Grown is selling dried medical cannabis flowers. It had planned to open with a selection of derivative products such as oils, lotions, concentrates and tinctures, but the Department of Health has not yet certified a lab to test manufactured cannabis products, the company said.

Now, Maui Grown is only seeing patients who have gone through preopening intake and have appointments. Freitas Gorman said about 400 patients have already gone through the intake process.

Walk-ins will be taken next week Monday when the retail dispensary will have regular hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday at 44 Pa’a St.

Maui Grown is one of eight licensed dispensaries in Hawaii. They are in different stages of development and at varying stages of the approval process, the Department of Health said.

Maui’s other dispensary is Pono Life Sciences Maui LLC. Its retail operation is in the former Hawaiian Island Surf & Sport store on Dairy Road in Kahului. It began cultivation in February.

Pono Life released a statement Tuesday evening. “This is a great step forward and a historic moment for the state of Hawaii,” it said. “We at Pono Life Maui are honored to be part of Hawaii’s effort towards expanding safe access to medical cannabis for patients. We are looking forward to getting our products to patients in the very near future. Having multiple dispensary options on Maui ultimately means a wider selection of high-quality, medical cannabis to be best suited to the needs of the community.”

Officials with Maui Grown and the Health Department said Tuesday was historic for marking the first legal purchases of medical marijuana from a dispensary in Hawaii.

“This is an important day for qualified patients and caregivers on Maui who now have assurance the medical cannabis they purchase at Maui Grown Therapies has been thoroughly tested and is safe for them to use,” said Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler. “Implementing a new health program is always challenging, and the dispensary program was no exception. With legal guidance from Department of the Attorney General, the DOH team paved the way for this new industry in Hawaii and has set a new standard for dispensary programs other states can emulate.”

Maui Grown Therapies co-founder Dr. Gregory Park said: “It’s been a long, winding road to get here, and we’re extremely excited . . . Getting to this day required hard work, cooperation and patience, but it’s worth it to be able to bring this alternative therapy to our Maui community.”

Park also thanked West and South Maui state Sen. Roz Baker and Oahu Rep. Della Bellati for their efforts at the Legislature.

Freitas Gorman said Maui Grown Therapies would have a soft opening this week. And she was glad it was a small opening Tuesday because computer systems that connect with Health Department systems were not allowing patients to be checked-in at 11 a.m. Then, another computer problem stalled sales after the check-in portion was resolved. The first patients were in and out of the dispensary in about an hour.

Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said Tuesday afternoon that she did not hear of any computer glitches, but she said the state and the dispensary were testing the system.

“This is the first time we are actually running the system for sales. We expect there will be small glitches,” Okubo said.

BioTrackTHC has the contract to run the state’s cannabis traceability system.

Freitas Gorman said she expected that 30 patients would be seen on Tuesday, with 50 to 90 a day today through Saturday.

There are around 25 staff members at Maui Grown, with room for several more in the future, Freitas Gorman said.

“We are very pleased to say that our staff (members) are longtime Maui residents,” with the exception of one former Oahu resident, Freitas Gorman said.

Cannabis researcher and author of “Cannabis Pharmacy,” Michael Backes, developed the curriculum and personally trained Maui Grown’s employees in July.

Freitas Gorman said she expects a growth in patients at the dispensary because there are 4,000 people on Maui that have a medical marijuana card.

Lahaina resident Fred Rickert, who has a medical marijuana card and also legally grows his own cannabis, said he was “very excited” about the dispensaries opening, and he has been waiting for something like this for years.

The 74-year-old, who was first in line when the doors opened, said he no longer has to worry about trimming his legal indoor cannabis plants, which he uses to treat chronic back pain.

“It’s a great day,” he said.

After receiving his cannabis, Rickert said he was excited to come back to talk to staff and education specialists about how his dose worked.

This is the part that staff will work on with patients as things progress, said Dr. Greg Yim, of Oahu, who is part of the Maui Grown Therapies’ Science & Medical Advisory Board.

He said patients will take the dried cannabis flower that Maui Grown has for sale and see how its varieties work.

This includes examining those with different THC content, the main mind-altering ingredient as well as CBD, or cannabidiol, a property of cannabis linked to pain relief, similar to THC.

Yim said he didn’t know how the patients would use the flower specifically because people have their own methods and reasons for taking the medical cannabis.

Yim said that now patients will be able to monitor what they are taking in.

“I think this is a historic day. It’s a great day for Maui, for Hawaii,” said Yim who canceled his appointments on Oahu Tuesday to be on Maui.

Maui Grown Therapies said there is no charge to patients who want to meet with the company’s patient education specialists to learn how medical cannabis can help manage health conditions and which cannabis cultivars or derivative products are best suited for them.

Registered patients and their caregivers may purchase up to 4 ounces of medical cannabis during a period of 15 consecutive days and purchase a maximum of 8 ounces over a 30-day period, the Health Department said.

All use of medical cannabis must be on private property.

Maui Grown Therapies has a solar-powered Upcountry production center. The facility reuses its irrigation water by recapturing and filtering condensed water from its climate control system, the company said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at