Living the Dream: Helen Cho

As with cannabis, native Hawaiians have a long history with Spam; inevitably the two have met.

Helen Cho

Director of Strategy

Aloha Green Apothecary

Honolulu, HI

Hawaii dispensaries are not allowed to use the terms “vape” or “vaporization” (per state Department of Health regulation); instead we have to call it “safe pulmonary administration of medical cannabis,” or SPAMC. And if you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you already know about this state’s obsession with Spam, the Hormel Foods canned meat. More Spam is consumed per person in Hawaii than in any other state in the United States. We even have Spam Jam, a huge annual street festival dedicated to the great American meat, held in the middle of Waikiki with food vendors, musicians and, of course, a lot of Spam.

Maybe we’ll sponsor it next year. Cannabis and Spam — it doesn’t get much better than that.

It’s funny now as we joke about SPAMC, but the rollout of vape cartridges in Hawaii was not smooth. It involved the dispensaries, patients, Department of Health, legislators and even the governor — with the process playing out over days of confusion and miscommunication, requiring an official state press release to set the story straight. 

Though the dispensaries in Hawaii have been open for about a year, we needed a legislative bill to allow for the sale of pre-filled vape oil cartridges, a product that the Department of Health initially considered a “smoking” product and thus prohibited as part of its staunch anti-smoking position. (We still are not allowed to sell any non-vape paraphernalia at any of the dispensaries, including rolling papers!)

We celebrated the passing of that bill and were told that it would go into effect at the end of this year’s legislative session, June 30. So, the dispensaries got ready. Then we were told that unless the governor signed the bill before July 1, it wouldn’t go into effect until July 10.

Well, July 1 came and went without the bill being signed. Patients began asking about cartridges and we had to tell everyone that sales would begin on the 10th. At Aloha Green Apothecary, we focused on July 4 sales instead and prepared cartridge sales for the perfectly timed 710 deals. But just when we thought we had a solid plan, the governor signed the bill on the evening of July 5, which technically meant the cartridges could go on sale as soon as the ink struck paper. Right? No.

The signed bill wasn’t given an act number, which is necessary to ratify it as a bona fide law. So we sat around all day refreshing Hawaii’s legislation online portal page for the bill, waiting for a bill number to appear. Nothing. But on July 6, the Department of Health sent an email to all dispensaries, suddenly opening the flood gates and allowing oil cartridge and battery sales that day. But to top off the randomness, we weren’t allowed to call them “vape” or “vaping” products, significantly increasing the amount of patient education required to clear up the confusion.

In the cannabis space, situations like this happen often — especially in heavily regulated markets like Hawaii. But you learn to stay flexible. You have to maintain solid relationships with your regulators and step up to help with the situation — everyone is trying their best. Have a Plan B and C, and make sure your staff understand what’s happening so the entire company can stay nimble and responsive.

Roll with the punches, stay focused on company objectives and bring home that Spam.



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