Big Island dispensary pushed back, too

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HILO — One of two companies slated to open Hawaii Island’s first medical marijuana dispensaries says a change in production plans has pushed its estimated opening into next year.

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HILO — One of two companies slated to open Hawaii Island’s first medical marijuana dispensaries says a change in production plans has pushed its estimated opening into next year.

Richard Ha, a former banana farmer who now heads the medical marijuana company Lau Ola, previously said he hoped to be operational sometime in 2017.

Several months ago, however, Lau Ola scrapped plans to re-configure its open-air banana packing house to grow marijuana, Ha said Monday. It’s now laying the groundwork to instead build from scratch a 35,000-square-foot grow center to be located nearby on the 600-acre Pepeekeo farm.

That delay means it now anticipates being up-and-running by April or May 2018, Ha said, adding that’s still “just an estimate.”

“It wasn’t an easy decision but it was one of those things you got to sit down and just decide,” Ha said. “This building has got to be completely enclosed and leak-proof and the configuration has got to be efficient. With the (banana) packing house, it’s not necessarily the most efficient set-up. So when we saw what it would take to retrofit it, we came to the conclusion it would be better to design from scratch and do it the way we want to do it.

“And it’s because we’re inexperienced in this particular area. And we’re not in a rush that we will (get it done) at any cost. We want to make sure we do it right.”

Lau Ola is among eight companies statewide selected last year to open Hawaii’s first dispensaries. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2000, but state law never provided a way for patients to legally buy it.

Similar to Lau Ola, however, none of those remaining eight companies have begun selling marijuana despite having been legally able to as of last summer. At least part of the problem stems from a lack of testing laboratories. Law mandates any marijuana sold to patients must first be tested in a state-certified lab for contaminants and levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), among other things.

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The state Department of Health told the Associated Press last week it’s waiting on documents from three labs that have applied and anticipates approving at least one lab this summer.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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