Hawaii finally approved its first laboratory to begin testing samples of medical marijuana—17 years after use of the drug was legalized in the state. The state Department of Health has certified Honolulu-based lab Steep Hill Hawaii, bringing Hawaii closer to the long-awaited date when dispensaries can begin selling products.

Steep Hill is an appropriate name for the lab, considering Hawaii’s long uphill battle to bring dispensaries to fruition, despite almost two decades of medical marijuana legalization.

Hawaii was among the first states to legalize medical marijuana in 2000. However, the state didn’t legalize dispensaries until 2015, leaving about 17,000 patients or their caregivers to grow or obtain the plant on their own.

You must be a cardholder or caregiver with a valid Hawaii 329 Registration Card to purchase medicine from any dispensary, once they officially open.

Medical marijuana has been legal for years, but no one was allowed to obtain it legally.

“It was a Wild West situation,” said Hawaiian-based medical marijuana patient, Jen Taylor. “The government wasn’t going to tell you how to get it, or where to get it, which put people in danger if they obtained it illegally.”

Medical marijuana dispensaries began opening in Hawaii this summer, but they could not sell their products, because the state had not certified any labs to conduct the required testing.

“This is a big milestone, and it couldn’t have come any sooner, because many people within the industry were getting frustrated and a little angry at the time it has taken to get to this point,” Democratic State Senator Will Espero told the Associated Press. “But now that we are here, hopefully the next phase, in terms of sales, will happen quickly and everything will go smoothly.”

The potential medical marijuana business owners who have gotten their dispensary licenses, have spent upwards of $75,000, up front, and have had to maintain their licenses, with hefty six figure fees, while the state took forever to get their product testing lab situated.

Meanwhile, their businesses still aren’t open yet. Subsequently, many licensees are in danger of going bankrupt. 

“The whole thing was handled a bit backwards. The lab should have come first, instead of expecting people to invest in a business that languished with no income.” said Taylor.

Hawaii granted licenses by way of a raffle.

Actor Woody Harrelson tried to obtain one, and was denied. Out of 66 applicants, a total of eight licenses were awarded initially: three licenses for the City and County of Honolulu, two dispensary licenses each for the County of Hawaii and the County of Maui and one dispensary license for the County of Kauai. Each dispensary licensee will be allowed to operate up to two production centers and two retail-dispensing locations.

Finding the dispensaries can be tricky. Using the dispensary geo-locater app Herbo can help.

Once the lab receives samples, it will take about four days to test and return products to dispensaries for sale, said Dana Ciccone, owner of Steep Hill Hawaii.

The dispensaries will then undergo one final inspection by the Department of Health, with the product present, department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said. That on-site inspection and accompanying paperwork could take 24 to 48 hours.

Steep Hill worked tirelessly over the past year to receive certification so patients could finally access safe, legal cannabis, Ciccone said in an email to the Associated Press.

“Today is a big step in the right direction for Hawaii’s medical cannabis industry,” he said.

The product at Honolulu-based dispensary Aloha Green has been ready for months, and dispensary CEO James H.Q. Lee said he hopes to begin the lab testing process today.

“We’ve been waiting, so that’s very good news,” Lee said. “I think the patients will be happy.”

Lee still has questions about what size sample to prepare, and he hasn’t gotten a definitive answer from the Department of Health, he said.

Maui Grown Therapies has developed tinctures, oils, creams and capsules in preparation for the launch of their 2,112-square-foot retail store in Maui Lani Village Center. They are also ready to begin testing their product, said Teri Freitas Gorman, director of community relations and patient affairs at the dispensary.

The caveat is, even though Hawaii is made up of seven islands, product tested by Steep Hill, will only be available to dispensaries in Honolulu. Transferring tested and approved medical marijuana inter-island, is tantamount to trafficking.

Furthermore, the existing medical marijuana population’s clientele, won’t even cover the lab’s operating costs. In order to be cost effective, the state has to be open to receiving nationwide patients.

Eco Science Solutions, through its lab testing business, Labs 1 2 3, is looking to address the pain points of Hawaii’s medical marijuana patients, by establishing labs on all the remaining, outer-lying islands and eventually nationwide.

“We hope to fulfill the market need in the state of Hawaii and help all Hawaiian patients get easy access to medical marijuana.” said Eco Science Solutions COO Mike Rountree.

RELATED: Hawaii Veterans Turn to Medical Marijuana for Help
You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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