The state Department of Health is supposed to announce the recipients of eight licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana on April 15, but the agency issued a press release Friday saying that the announcement may be delayed.

One of five people who were selected to review 66 applications has dropped out, and the department says it also needs more fingerprinting data from applicants.

The selection panel will no longer include John Fisher, scientific director of Keystone Laboratories, and his scoring will be disregarded, the agency said.

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.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are supposed to open this summer, but the state may delay the awarding of licenses to grow and sell the drug. Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

“It has just recently come to my attention that Dr. John Fisher, through no fault on his part, was not able to continue with his review,” said Peggy Leong, who leads the medical cannabis dispensary program in a press release Friday. “I’m not at liberty to share more details, in the interest of Dr. Fisher’s privacy.”

That leaves University of Hawaii Manoa professor David Bess; retired state Supreme Court justice James Duffy; Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, deputy to the chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture; and Keith Ridley, chief of the Office of Health Care Assurance as the remaining selection committee members.

The agency also needs more fingerprinting information from applicants, and sent them a notice Thursday evening saying that they must submit their fingerprints through Fieldprint by Tuesday.

That didn’t go over well with all the applicants. The Hawaii Dispensary Alliance, a trade group for the soon-to-be-formed industry, issued a lengthy press release contending that the requirement will have “the same effect of scuttling the application process and robbing its results of legitimacy in the eyes of the public and likely the courts.”

“Without some form of explanation or extension, obtaining this information for potentially dozens of people, in a mere five-day window, over a weekend, at limited fingerprinting locations will simply be impossible for many applicants,” Christopher Garth, the organization’s executive director, said in the press release. “The Department of Health must either act now to address the issue they created, or act later to defend the lawsuits which will sink Hawaii’s medical marijuana program before it even starts.”

The Department of Health defended itself in its own press release later on Friday, contending that applicants were aware that fingerprinting was a requirement.

“We know that this is not an ideal situation for them, but if the applicants are not able to comply with the short turnaround time, or the Department is unable to review the background check results when they are received, we may need to wait to announce the final selection,” Leong said.

Sen. Will Espero, who helped draft the medical marijuana dispensary law, told Civil Beat that while a delay would be unfortunate, he thinks it’s acceptable as long as it’s only a matter of days.

“Obviously this is just a hiccup and an item that fell through the cracks in terms of the application process,” he said of the fingerprinting issue. “At least the Department of Health found it when they did and ultimately will be able to get all the fingerprinting and everything that is needed by the 12th. If not, then a delay of a day or two is just going to have to happen in order to make certain that everything is done correctly.”

Hawaii legalized medical marijuana dispensaries last year and they are supposed to open this summer. Fifty-nine companies are competing for eight licenses to grow and sell medical cannabis.

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