LIHUE — The Lihue Business Association’s Thursday meeting at Duke’s Canoe Club focused on medical marijuana.
Speakers included Casey Rothstein, a clinical researcher and CEO of Green Aloha + Dispensary, Dr. Janet Berreman with the state Department of Health, and Dr. Neil Clendeninn.
“The first month the first (medical) retail dispensary was opened, there were 3,600 patient visits,” Berreman said to about 30 people. “Less than a year later, in May of last year, there were 27,000 patient visits in one month, and that was when there was still just four dispensaries open.”
It’s a product that is meeting a big demand, Berreman said
She said there are nearly 25,000 registered patients in the state with their average age being little more than 50, and some up to 75 years old. They are about 60 percent male, 40 percent female, and a half of a percent are transgender.
The most common symptom for patients seeking medical marijuana is pain, Berreman said.
On Kauai, there are just under 2,000 registered users.
She said users include young children and teens. Common reasons include severe pain and epilepsy treatment.
Rothstein owns and operates the only medical dispensary on Kauai.
“In 2015, I started focusing on medical marijuana,” Rothstein said. “Personally, I’ve been a medical marijuana patient for 20 years. I played college ice hockey in Ohio and got badly injured. Luckily, I’m allergic to opioids. So, really, my main choice for pain management, after ibuprofen destroyed my stomach lining, was to turn to medical marijuana.”
Rothstein’s uncle owns multiple recreational marijuana stores in Seattle. Rothstein was originally looking to get into the retail marijuana industry on Kauai, but as the law took shape, his plans were forced to evolve around the legislation.
He won the first license to operate a medical dispensary in 2016 and hoped to open a storefront in Lihue, but because of unforeseen problems, he was forced to locate in Kapaa. His company started growing medical marijuana in July of 2017 and opened in May. As the first medical marijuana store in Kauai nears its first birthday, Rothstein reflected on the journey.
“It’s been a wild ride,” he said. “This is a totally new industry on Kauai.”
From the massive amounts of high-intensity lighting to the miles of HVAC and the corresponding electric work, Rothstein explained what it took to come this far in the industry.
Rothstein gave the example of the destruction of waste product and how he must hire a full-time employee just for the destruction of the byproduct.
“Once they are picked off (the marijuana leaves) they are considered waste, they go into a paper bag and sit for 72 hours before we’re allowed to destroy them,” Rothstein said. “We’re not allowed to use them for anything. Everybody wants to be able to make something out of the fresh leaves, something like that. There’s no way to do that. There’s no way in the software, there’s no way in the industry, the way the regulations are written. We have one point of harvest at the end and any waste product that comes off the plant prior to that has to be logged as waste.”
Rothstein equated the extra procedural necessities as something that adds costs to his bottom line, and there are no tax write-offs for employee payroll, utilities, or rent, like typical small businesses.
“We basically have a full-time job just destroying our garbage,” Rothstein said.
Rothstein gave a second example of access as something that is causing his business headaches, where everyone who enters through the back of the store must have an FBI background check. This includes anyone he hires to do maintenance on the building.
“We have to have contracts with repair services ahead of time,” Rothstein said. “People on their repairs team must have a background check ahead of time.”
Members of the Kauai Police Department, including the vice squad, were at the meeting on an informal level.
“We work with them (the dispensaries),” said Roy Asher, KPD assistant chief. “It’s rough, but I think that’s by design. It’s a big change for me in law enforcement. For 30 years, it’s a big change.”
Ryan Collins, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: A reference to Alzheimer’s disease was removed from this story.