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Marijuana dispensaries have yet to open on Big Island

HONOLULU — It’s been a year since Hawaii’s first legal sale of marijuana and nearly two decades since the state approved the drug for medical use, and still, no retail dispensaries have started selling on the Big Island.

Six out of eight dispensaries have opened on all of the major islands except Hawaii Island. It’s the island with the second most medical marijuana patients, behind Oahu.

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A dispensary was expected to open on the Big Island as early as December 2016, but that was pushed back by county permitting and other government requirements.

Another challenge dispensaries looking to open on the Big Island are facing is geography.

Two dispensaries have run into issues with adequate water supply for firefighting, said Robert Perreira, battalion chief of the Hawaii Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau.

“They put it in locations that didn’t have the proper infrastructure,” he said. “One facility ended up having to install their own water source and fire pump, which took a long time. Then the other facility also had issues with water supply and also had operational issues they needed to get through.”

In the meantime, Hawaiian Ethos, one of the dispensaries expecting to open in the Big Island, is getting inquiries from patients who have been waiting for dispensaries to arrive, said Zachary Taffany, Hawaiian Ethos’ chief operating officer. He is not sure exactly when the dispensary will open.

“Both licensees on the Big Island still haven’t received permission to cultivate,” Taffany said. “There must be some extra compliance processes we’re having to go through in permitting.”

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Richard Ha, a Big Island farmer and CEO of the other dispensary, Lau Ola, is also eager to get started after spending so much time on multiple permitting delays and having to replace a cooling system to control temperature and humidity in his growing facility six months after installing the wrong one.

“Time is money. It just kills us to delay. But if we want to have a long-term successful operation we got to do it just precisely,” Ha said. “The longer it takes to get cash flow in, the scarier it is.”