Pot-pourri: Hawaiian Ethos puts down medical marijuana roots in Waimea
WAIMEA — Although Waimea is home to dozens of farms large and small, none can grow the same green plant as a newcomer in Lalamilo will sometime soon.
Hawaiian Ethos — one of the two medical marijuana-licensed entities permitted on Hawaii Island — hopes to have its cultivation site up and running later this year.
“Everyone involved in this project has a personal story of someone who was suffering and who they saw positively impacted by medical cannabis,” said Hawaiian Ethos’ Chief Operating Officer Zachary Taffany. “That influenced their attitude towards the plant as medicine. It connects everyone on the team, with compassion as the driving factor.”
The Lalamilo lease, which began last year, is indefinite.
“We came to a win-win agreement that’s good for us, the landowner and the community,” Taffany said.
The company is backed by 14 investors, mostly based in Waimea or throughout the islands. The idea originally germinated among several Hawaiian Ola employees, a company known for their Puna-grown noni drinks.
“When the state announced they were going to accept applications for the license in 2015, Vernon Oi, one of Hawaiian Ola’s lead investors, said, ‘This is a great opportunity. Let’s apply.’ In November, a group of four of us Hawaiian Ola executives started writing it,” Taffany said.
Oi, who lives on the Big Island, has played a crucial role in the process.
“He’s our chief science officer and was our visionary. He paid for us to write the 3,300-page application,” Taffany said. “Because of his background in science and patents, he really has the foresight to see where the science needs additional research. That’s why we’re investing in it for the long run.”
After they won the license, the four executives were recruited from Hawaiian Ola to Hawaiian Ethos. Chris Whidden oversees the entire cultivation and operation side as president, and Taffany manages the retail, dispensary and patient side.
There is now a team of 16 employees, some part-time and others full-time, working on standard operating procedures for cultivation, manufacturing, processing, research and development, and patient safety testing, among other items on their checklist.
Construction of the grow center began last month.
“We hope to get the building finished, all appropriate authority inspections done and the building approved as compliant and ready for planting within the next several months,” Taffany said.
The state has made several changes to the rules since Hawaiian Ethos was selected.
“A big one, signed into law with HB2707 last year, now allows us to use transparent ceilings for the cultivation site,” Taffany said. “Everything has to be grown indoors and out of the visibility of the public. The ceiling will allow us to use the natural sunlight, which is one of the most cost-saving changes the legislation made.”
Hawaiian Ethos aims to open its Hilo and Kona dispensaries by the end of the year, but this will be contingent on all state-level requirements being met.
“We’re opening in an unprecedented market and we don’t know what our patients want yet,” Taffany said. “We’re doing our best to prepare for a range of needs and will adapt according to patient feedback and their medication consumption once we open.”
Hawaiian Ethos plans to hire 15-20 additional employees, mostly from the island, before opening.
“For some of the clinical doctors for our medical advisory board we’re looking to the West Coast because they’re the ones that have experience working with patients in that setting,” he said.
In 2016, Hawaiian Ethos was one of eight companies in the state awarded licenses to open medical marijuana dispensaries. Each licensee is allowed two production centers and two retail stores. There are strict state rules they must follow.
“Every step in the seed-to-sale process is recorded and tracked through the state’s computer tracking software done by the Department of Health. They have contracted with BioTrackTHC, the software company that has won most of the states’ medical cannabis programs,” Taffany said. “They will be integrating the database with the patient database, the lab and dispensaries.”
Hawaiian Ethos has identified 20 different types of medical marijuana they plan to sell initially.
“We’ll have 20 strains of cannabis flowers to choose from, as well as blends and formulations in oils, tinctures and lozenges. Cannabis food, otherwise known as ‘edibles,’ are prohibited currently.”
Quantities and doses will also be standardized, as specified by law.
“It will be high-quality, state-tested, safety-guaranteed product at a fair market rate,” he said.
In order to purchase the medical marijuana product, patients must go through four steps: a recommendation from one of the state’s licensed and registered doctors for one of the current qualifying conditions; register with the state’s registry program; have a current medical marijuana ID card; and some form of valid ID. There is no age restriction.
Taffany plans to hold a meeting to introduce their operation to the public in the future.
“Once we’re up and running we plan to be doing active community outreach. So far, we’ve only connected with our neighbors (in Lalamilo),” he said. “They invited us to speak at their association meeting, where we shared what we’re doing for security — going above and beyond with high-tech detection, deterrence, notification and recording. We’re also doing extra things to invest in the safety and security of the neighborhood beyond our own facility.”
The staff has begun looking at storefront locations for the Hilo and Kona dispensaries.
“We hope to sign lease agreements this summer so we’re prepared when all the components are ready for us to open,” Taffany said.
Among their long-term goals, Hawaiian Ethos would like to eventually partner with University of Hawaii at Hilo.
“We’d love the opportunity to work with them if they secured a DEA license to test medical cannabis,” he said. “They could set a standard for safety and efficacy.”
Presently, Hawaiian Ethos continues to focus on the opening of their two medical marijuana dispensaries.
“We’re really excited to begin working with patients,” Taffany said. “We have an opportunity to be an example to the medical community of how to work with patients collaboratively to develop better medicine.”