Living the Dream: Sarah Vasega

Sarah Vasega
Director of Retail Operations
Aloha Green Apothecary
Honolulu, HI

The term “island time” is used endearingly to describe a leisurely pace or delay in arrival. In the case of obtaining medical cannabis or running a business, it can be inconvenient at best and crippling at worst. The state of Hawaii has approximately 27,000 registered medical cannabis patients at the time of this writing. After being diagnosed with one or more of the state’s 15 qualifying conditions by a physician or advanced practice registered nurse, personal information and a fee must be submitted to the Medical Cannabis Registry for processing. The registry program stores patient and caregiver data and issues the state’s 329 Medical Cannabis Card that allows access to dispensaries and legal possession of cannabis products.

Recently, due to staffing shortages at the Hawaii Medical Cannabis Registry, wait times for medical cannabis cards have increased drastically. An office that normally operates with just seven employees now has four open positions to fill. A few months ago, after a doctor’s approval, patients received a digital card within one to two business days. Currently, the same card will be received in seven to 10 business days.

With the best intentions, the state registry has expedited the process for certain conditions, such as cancer, and is able to issue those cards much faster. A patient with post-traumatic stress disorder however, may wait more than a week to gain access to a dispensary. Dispensaries are experiencing slower growth as a result and are anticipating the onboarding of state employees to remedy the slowdown.

Since the opening of Hawaii’s first dispensaries in August 2017, we have seen turnaround times for medical card issuances vary from eight weeks to one business day. We see a direct correlation between sales revenue and the length of time patients wait for medical cards. This is evident when a batch of medical cards are approved and delivered, and we see a spike in sales from first-time customers.

Fortunately, patients can renew their cards prior to expiration and avoid a lapse if they act early enough. However, those who are getting their card for the first time are at the mercy of the efficiency of the state-run program. Though the current delays are not ideal for anyone, we are hopeful that the state will find qualified applicants to fill these important roles.

In any business or operation, systems are only as reliable as the humans who are relied upon to execute them.

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