5 Things You Need to Know About Medical Marijuana in Hawai‘i

As the state’s first pot lab gets the green light, two O‘ahu dispensaries may open as early as next week.

Video: Courtesy of Aloha Green


It felt like a cliffhanger that would never end. But Hawai‘i’s 17-year wait for legal marijuana to go on sale to holders of medical cannabis cards is over.


“I am ecstatic,” said state health department director Virginia Pressler, at the conclusion of a 15-month process. “This is what we’ve been working for, and I’m happy for our patients for getting a safe product. We probably have the safest product in the country.”


Monday’s decision by the state health department to certify the first of three labs means that patients no longer have to buy on the black market. In addition to leaving dodgy situations in darkened parking lots behind, they can be assured they’re getting cannabis that’s passed what’s probably the most stringent testing in the U.S. The labs are responsible for testing a laundry list of 70 markers, including contaminants, solvents, pesticides, heavy metals, microbes, toxins and, yes, potency.


Pressler’s decision to subject medical cannabis to what she called “pharmaceutical standards” was criticized by several dispensary licensees. But, she says, “when our lab certification director Chris Whelen looked at other states and their standards, he said, ‘I’m not satisfied.’”


Medical marijuana


The multifaceted process included selecting eight licensees from a field of more than 50 applicants; overseeing indoor grow room site selection, construction and security; contracting for software that will track every plant from seed to sale; and working hand-in-hand with the three independent, for-profit labs who will do the product testing.


“I was recently talking to an officer in a state I won’t mention and they’re desperately trying to get control of their testing,” Pressler said. “They’re having real problems with their product’s purity. They don’t have the rules that we do.”


Those who hold 329 cards can buy up to four ounces of cannabis in any form every 15 days, or eight ounces every 30 days. Prices will be determined by the dispensaries. It’s unclear which dispensaries will open, and when, but stay tuned. Five of eight licensees have had one or more of their production centers OKed; two more labs await state approval.


It’s not easy going green, but now that it’s done, Pressler is proud her team took its time to get it right. “I’m just very happy for our patients in Hawai‘i. My attitude has been all along this should be treated as any pharmaceutical and I wanted to make sure they have a safe product to count on. Not only safe in terms of contamination, but a safe potency.”


Medical marijuana


Here are five more things you need to know:


1. No card, no cannabis.

Without a 329 card, which requires a physician visit and certification that you have a qualifying symptom, you can’t even set foot in a dispensary. Illnesses approved for receiving a medical card in Hawai‘i include cancer, glaucoma, M.S., HIV/AIDS, PTSD, Crohn’s Disease and cachexia (wasting disease) and others.


2. What you buy on O‘ahu, stays on O‘ahu.

While the state’s 17,000 holders of a 329 card can theoretically buy legal cannabis, those on Neighbor Islands will be out of luck until their dispensaries open—unless they want to fly over and have a cannabis staycation. “With a state card, they can go to any dispensary,” says Pressler, “but they can’t legally fly with it over international waters. They can’t transport it back to their island.” However, Maui Grown Therapies has a waiver to fly testing samples to O‘ahu and has notified patients who’ve already registered of an anticipated store opening in Wailuku.


Medical marijuana


3. No Midnight Express stuff. 

Live on a Neighbor Island and thinking you’re a smooth dude who’s willing to take a chance? Don’t. Would-be smugglers should recall that every flight passes over international waters where federal, not state, regulations apply—with marijuana possession subject to Schedule I felony prosecution. That means U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions will be eyeing your docket and thinking, “Hmmm, Hawai‘i—isn’t that where Doug Chin is from?” (Didn’t get our Midnight Express reference? Watch “Airport Scene from Midnight Express on YouTube.)


4. Curious about your stash? Bring it on in. 

For $50, Steep Hill Hawai‘i, the first lab to receive approval, will put your personal marijuana through the same lab testing process—if you have a 329 card. Given the kinds of pesticides used in sugar and pineapple plantations, if you’re a regular user, that might not be a bad idea. (Also if bugs have been all over your plants.)

Steep Hill Hawai‘i, 1150 S. King St., call in advance: (808) 735-5227. 


5. No brownies, no truffles, no pre-rolled joints.

To discourage keiki, teens and non-329 card holders getting their mitts on marijuana, the dispensaries are bound by law to sell medical cannabis in its more sober incarnations, including flower, lotions, pills and tinctures. The dispensaries also don’t allow consumption of product on the premises and are forbidden from selling paraphernalia. Still, in line with the state health department’s successful antismoking intiative, Pressler says, “I’m looking foward to a wide variety of products available as an alternative to smoking cannabis.”