Despite a statutory deadline of April 15, the state Department of Health will wait until April 29 to announce the eight companies that will receive licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana.

The agency sent an email to 59 applicants last Thursday asking for fingerprinting information that would allow the department to review their criminal history. The department requested that the applicants submit the information by Tuesday.

Peggy Leong, who manages the state’s medical marijuana dispensary program, said in a press release that some applicants are traveling abroad and weren’t able to submit their fingerprinting information in time, prompting the decision to delay the announcement.

Patients can currently grow their own medical marijuana, but a new law seeks to make it easier for patients to get medicine by legalizing dispensaries.

Patients can currently grow their own medical marijuana, but a new law legalizing dispensaries would allow them to buy cannabis this summer.

Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

State Department of Health director Virginia Pressler said in a press release that the department decided to allow applicants to continue to submit their fingerprinting information until April 25.

“We will be pushing hard to complete our review and announce the licensees by Friday, April 29,” Pressler was quoted as saying. “While we regret the delay, we believe the priority is to do this the right way, and that includes being fair to the applicants by providing this additional time.”

Hawaii legalized medical marijuana in 2000 but only approved a law establishing a dispensary system last year. Legislators approved an expedited rule-making process to allow dispensaries to open this summer.

Chris Garth, who leads the trade group Hawaii Dispensary Alliance, said in a press release that the Department of Health should have requested the fingerprinting information during the application process in January.

“Changing course at this late date, only two days before the statutory deadline will seriously undermine the legitimacy of the process, the reputation of the Department of Health, and the economic viability of many dispensary applicants,” he said. “Our members are increasingly concerned about the lack of transparency and disorganization exhibited by the Department of Health’s conduct concerning the last minute removal of a panelist, last minute request for fingerprints and last minute postponement of the announcement deadline.”

One of the five members of the selection panel, John Fisher, scientific director of Keystone Laboratories, left the selection panel last week. Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the Department of Health, said in an email Wednesday that he “was unable to continue for personal reasons” and was not removed from the panel.

She also said that the department notified applicants immediately, once the system for accepting fingerprinting information and conducting background checks was finalized.

“DOH piggy-backed on to a much larger and extensive agreement that the State was finalizing with Fieldprint for fingerprint background checks, and the completion of that process took longer than was expected,” she said in an email. “Since last week’s notification, more than 500 criminal history checks have been completed.”

Sen. Will Espero, who helped draft the medical marijuana dispensary law, issued a statement calling the delay “disappointing” but emphasizing that the selection process must be done properly.

“It is imperative that no further delays arise as of the 29th,” he said.

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