Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Hawaii consultant Peter Adler was one of those who had applied for a dispensary license. In fact, the Peter Adler listed in the document below is a different Peter Adler.
Nearly 500 people linked to more than 50 companies competed for licenses to operate Hawaii’s first medical marijuana dispensaries.
While some well-known figures such as actor Woody Harrelson and tech entrepreneur Henk Rogers have already been identified (their applications were unsuccessful), a much fuller list of names has now become public, thanks to an attorney’s public records request.
Well-known figures in Hawaii legal, business and political circles sought a piece of the action.
The list includes: high-powered lobbyists Bruce Coppa and John Radcliffe; past and present elected officials Norman Mineta (a former U.S. transportation secretary), John Henry Felix, former legislator Bertha Kawakami and her nephew, state Rep. Derek Kawakami; and attorneys Rick Fried, Steve Torkildson, Lex Smith, Tony Takitani, Ivan-Lui Kwan, Myles Breiner, David Louie (a former state attorney general) and Andrew Pepper.
A man holds his state-issued marijuana card during testifimony at the Capitol in 2014.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
And these: farmer Dean Okimoto, investors Dustin Sellers and Elizabeth Rice Grossman, musician Melissa Etheridge and Kevin Lima, a former Honolulu assistant police chief. A number of medical doctors were also listed.
Eight companies were selected by the health department in April to receive licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana: three on Oahu, two in Hawaii County, two in Maui County and one in Kauai County.
Businessmen Colbert Matsumoto, who was recently appointed to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board, and Duane Kurisu were among the high-profile people tied to entities that were approved. Other winners included Big Island farmer Richard Ha and former Maui Land and Pineapple CEO David Cole.
Dispensaries Aren’t Open Yet
The full list of names is contained in documents produced in response to a public records request on behalf of Abigail Kawananakoa, according to an attorney representing her.
The Campbell Estate heir and descendant of Hawaiian royalty established the Abigail Kawananakoa Research Center Corporation, a program intended to obtain public records and share them with the media and any interested party.
Kawananakoa’s name has been in the news many times.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii since 2000, but patients were required to obtain their own supply. That changed in May 2015, when the Hawaii Legislature approved a bill allowing dispensaries.
The state is in the process of finalizing a contract. But another hitch is that no laboratories have applied with the state to test the product, something required by law.
“DOH is in the process of meeting with licensees, conducting inspections and certifying grow sites,” said Janice Okubo, the department’s communications director.
Fields Of Green
A 2014 estimate said legal marijuana is America’s fastest-growing industry, valued at $2.7 billion. Pacific Business News estimated the sales potential at more than $30 million annually in Hawaii, a figure based on 13,000 patients each buying one ounce of marijuana a month for $200.
But that may be lowballing the actual value, especially as the pool of eligible patients grows. Medical marijuana in Illinois, for example, is listing for $400 an ounce.
Here’s another estimate, and by a different measure: “While average prices for illegal weed run anywhere from $8 to $20 per gram, legal government non-organic marijuana averages around $15 per gram. Private organic cannabis is closer to $10 per gram. High-grade cannabis can run as much as $60 per gram,” according to the Medical Marijuana Association.
Medical marijuana will be a big business in Hawaii, but none of the approved dispensaries can sell it yet.
Anthony Quintano / Civil Beat
It’s not only growers and sellers that are making big bucks.
The association says of Colorado, where pot is legal for recreational use:
The state raised $15.3 million from recreational pot sales in the first five months of 2014, according to Forbes. If you add in medical pot sales, the revenue was $23.6 million for the same time frame. It may just be a coincidence, but the state’s tourism industry is booming to record levels.
It’s not surprising that so many attorneys are interested in getting into the business, given the complexity of the law and regulations, as well as the potential for profit.
The law firm Alston, Hunt, Floyd & Ing, for example, represents three of the winning applicants for Hawaii dispensaries.
In October 2015, the Hawaii Supreme Court amended its rules to allow attorneys to offer legal advice to people who were applying for licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana. The court advised that attorneys counsel clients about the legal consequences about selling marijuana, as pot remains an illegal substance under federal law.
People in Hawaii are still getting busted for pot.
Statistics from the Hawaii Department of Attorney General show that arrests for manufacturing and sale of marijuana in 2014 included 23 adults on Oahu. Another 299 people were arrested for possession.
There was only one juvenile arrest for manufacturing and sale of pot that year, but 180 juveniles were arrested for possession.
The health department said it is working on releasing the completed applications submitted by the selected applicants, and then the completed applications submitted by all applicants.
“With those records publicly available, anyone may connect the names with each company,” said Okubo.