- Associated Press - Friday, April 8, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - The Hawaii Department of Health says it’s having delays in the process of selecting medical marijuana dispensary owners because of an issue with background checks. The announcement comes just seven days before the department is scheduled to announce the state’s first medical marijuana dispensary owners.

Each medical marijuana dispensary applicant has until Tuesday to submit fingerprints for background checks, the department said Friday.

It took longer than expected to set up the fingerprint system, said Janice Okubo, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Department of Health. “We notified the applicants as soon as we found out, and we understand that this is not the ideal situation,” Okubo said.

The Health Department may need to delay the announcement planned for April 15 if it isn’t able to review the background-check results in time, said Peggy Leong, supervisor of the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licensing Program.

It may be difficult for applicants who are traveling to be able to submit fingerprints by Tuesday’s deadline, said Carl Bergquist, executive director of the Drug Policy Action Group of Hawaii.

“It seems odd that at that time they didn’t realize they needed to get fingerprints from all the applicants,” Bergquist said. “It’s very unfortunate, and we don’t want anything to delay that announcement.”

The Health Department also said that one of the members of the five-person selection panel wasn’t able to fully participate in the selection process. The scoring of scientific director of Keystone Laboratories John Fisher won’t be counted when awarding the licenses.

“Dr. John Fisher, through no fault on his part, was not able to continue with his review,” Leong said. “I’m not at liberty to share more details, in the interest of Dr. Fisher’s privacy.”

The review and selection of the applicants will continue with the remaining four panel members, the Health Department said. Members of the panel include a University of Hawaii professor, the state’s Board of Agriculture chair and a retired Hawaii judge.

“I think as it gets closer people are getting more excited about the announcement,” Sen. Will Espero said. “So hopefully this is the only hiccup that the Department of Health has to deal with.”

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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