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Patients, Providers Aren't Waiting For Dispensaries


Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to roll back protection of cannabis businesses last week left a cloud of uncertainty over Hawai’i’s medical cannabis dispensary program. The state’s two-year-old program is still trying to find its foothold in the islands – with only four of the eight dispensaries open for business. Despite the slow roll out, patients and providers are wasting no time to ensure the medicine gets to where it needs to go. HPR reporter Ku?uwehi Hiraishi has this story.

When 28-year-old Randy Gonce left the Air Force four years ago, he was hypervigilant.

“I was in a job in the military that required you to be on your game 24/7, and be on the lookout, and really be just aware of all your surroundings,” says Gonce, “So you know going out in crowded areas where there’s a lot of people I was always looking at people hands and their pockets – what are they carrying, what are they doing, you know why are they fidgeting? And things like that.”

But he didn’t care much for the daily cocktail of six or seven pills his veterans’ affairs’ doctor prescribed him. Instead, he turned to cannabis – a medicine his fellow veterans were also taking.

“And within a month I left all my pills behind and started using cannabis,” says Gonce.

Gonce obtained his medical cannabis card here in Hawai’i two years ago. But when the state’s dispensary program rolled out, he wanted to get a taste of what they’re about.

“They’re clean, they’re presentable. They feel very professional when you’re there,” says Gonce, “They’re very knowledgeable about the products. I mean it feels like a very medical environment.”

But he admits he forgoes the dispensaries because he can’t afford it. Instead he either makes his own cannabinoid or CBD oils or gets CBD pills from this lady.

“My name is Me Lavon Fuimaono-Po. I’m a Family Nurse Practitioner and the Medical Director at the Malie Cannabis Clinic.”

Fuimaono-Po has been running her Honolulu clinic for almost a year and a half.

In that time, she’s seen an estimated 1,300 patients. And typically, her patients need help navigating the system.

“You know, your aunty and uncle who might have used cannabis in the 60s and 70s but you know raised their families stopped,” says Fuimaono-Po, “And now they have arthritis or they have cancer or they have some type of symptom that they want to treat with cannabis.”

She goes into different methods of cannabis, dosing, basically where to start. One of the biggest issues for her patients is finding alternatives to smoking. Under state law, dispensaries cannot produce edible forms of medical cannabis. So she imports these.

“So these are our CBD products,” says Fuimaono-Po, “We have oils and we also have capsules. So it really is depends on peoples’ preference.”

Overall, Fuimaono-Po says she’s happy with the roll out of Hawai’i’s medical dispensary program.

“You know bless our dispensaries. They have really jumped through a lot of hoops to get to where they’re at,” says Fuimaono-Po, “I think that from the delays from the state you know certifying labs. You know if you followed it for the past year and a half you know it’s been a lot.”

And there’s still a lot more to go. Patients on Hawai’i Island and Kaua’i are still without a dispensary. 

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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