- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - With less than a week to go before the state Department of Health announces the names of Hawaii’s first medical marijuana dispensary owners, applicants are rushing to meet last-minute requirements for background checks.

On Friday, the Hawaii Department of Health said it was having delays in the process of selecting medical marijuana dispensary owners because of an issue with background checks. The announcement came just days before the department is scheduled to announce the names of future dispensary owners on April 15.

The announcement could be delayed if background checks aren’t processed in time, officials said.

The Hawaii Dispensary Alliance, a trade organization representing applicants and patients, said the Department of Health could have faced lawsuits and had to redo the dispensary selection process if background checks weren’t required. “Our membership just wishes that this could have been announced a little bit earlier,” said Chris Garth, the organization’s executive director.

Bill Jarvis, who’s applying for a dispensary license and is president of telecommunications company Mobi PCS, said a potential delay in the selection process will only drag on the time it takes for patients to get their medicine. It also increases the costs for applicants who are waiting to potentially open dispensaries, he said.

“I know there are a lot of people complaining about it, and it probably wasn’t rolled out in the best way possible,” Jarvis said. “But the fact is, is this is a brand new industry and stuff like this is going to happen.”

Dispensaries can open as soon as July 15. Jarvis said that if he’s awarded license, he doesn’t expect to open until October or November of this year.

Other applicants worry this could be the first of many delays before they can sell medical marijuana.

Under state rules, the Health Department is required to inspect grow centers and dispensaries before they can open. Jeremy Nickel, who’s applying for a dispensary license and owns Hawaiian Holy Smokes, said he hopes to open as soon as August, but he worries there could be holdups with the Health Department’s inspection process.

“There’s no telling how long it’s going to take,” Nickel said.

Under a law passed in 2015, Hawaii will grant eight licenses for marijuana businesses, each of which can have two production centers and two dispensaries. Three licenses will be awarded for Oahu, two for Hawaii Island, two for Maui and one for Kauai. Actor and marijuana advocate Woody Harrelson and video game designer Henk Rogers are also among 59 Hawaii residents who applied for licenses in January.

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