Margaret “Peggy” Leong has spent the last eight and a half years working as a parish administrator at St. John Vianney Parish in Kailua.
But for the past two weeks, Leong has had a very different job: Taking the reins of Hawaii’s newly minted medical marijuana dispensary program at the state Department of Health.
As dispensary licensing supervisor, Leong’s work involves managing a program that’s scheduled to issue eight licenses in mid-April to grow and sell medical cannabis statewide.
Hawaii has allowed patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana for 15 years, but this program represents the first time they will be able to buy it legally. Many entrepreneurs have been spending lots of time and money to apply for the coveted licenses that will allow each business to open two dispensaries and two production centers next summer.
Leong’s new job draws heavily on her legal expertise as former deputy attorney general, representing the state on housing and family law matters between 1997 and 2007.
But it’s the first time her work has involved cannabis, perhaps not surprising, given that marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug under federal law.
Leong said in a phone interview Thursday that she took the job because it seemed like an exciting opportunity.
“With my administrative background and legal background, it seemed like a good fit,” she said.
At St. John Vianney Parish, Leong was the church administrator responsible for implementing Diocesan policies and procedures. That included managing finances and staff, recruiting volunteers and overseeing facility maintenance.
Prior to that, Leong worked at private law offices and as a law clerk. She graduated from the University of Hawaii law school in 1991 and has over 20 years of legal experience.
When asked about her vision for the program, Leong deferred to the law that Gov. David Ige signed last summer creating the dispensary program.
“My job is to make sure that the statute is carried out,” she said, noting the need to meet all statutory deadlines.
Leong has joined the department just weeks before the Jan. 4 deadline by which the agency must publish its draft rules governing the dispensary program.
The Health Department issued a notice on Friday announcing that applications for medical marijuana dispensary licenses will be available at 8 a.m. on Jan. 11, 2016 and can be submitted through the agency’s website from Jan. 12 through Jan. 29.