The state Department of Health on Monday released the names of a five-member panel that will help review and select those vying for the state’s first medical marijuana dispensary licenses.
The committee is made up of University of Hawaii professor H. David Bess, retired Hawaii Supreme Court Justice James E. Duffy Jr., state Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, state Office of Health Care Assurance chief Keith R. Ridley and John Fisher III, a pharmacologist and toxicologist from Alabama.
The group received praise from officials Monday, including state Sen. Josh Green (D, Naalehu-Kailua-Kona), who said the panel appeared to have a good breadth of knowledge and experience.
“I’m especially pleased by the selection of (former) Justice Duffy,” Green said. “He’s legendary in his even-keeled approach to state issues.”
State health officials said the panel members were screened with potential conflicts in mind.
“It is critical that the selection process be as fair and objective as possible and free from improper outside influence,” Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler said in a news release. “It is equally important that the process be as transparent as possible without compromising its integrity.”
Officials said the panel members have been told to refrain from discussing the applicants or the selection process with each other or anyone else.
In fact, panel members are required to immediately report any contact made with anyone trying to discuss the selection process or influence a decision. Officials warned that the selection could be delayed if any panel members have to be disqualified.
The dispensary licensees are expected to be announced by April 15.
The department, saying it was guarding the integrity of the process, originally planned to keep secret the names of the panel charged with choosing the eight winning applications from the 66 that were submitted in January.
The decision drew criticism and prompted the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to threaten to go to court if the names were not released.
Hawaii legalized medical marijuana in 2000 but did not provide a way for patients to obtain the drug. Act 241, adopted last year, authorizes the DOH to issue eight licenses to sell medical cannabis — three on Oahu, two each on Hawaii island and Maui, and one on Kauai. Each licensee will be allowed to run two production centers and two retail centers for a total of 16 dispensaries statewide.
The list of those who applied for a dispensary license includes actor Woody Harrelson, Hollywood producer Shep Gordon, dozens of high-profile attorneys, entrepreneurs and a politician.
Green, a physician, said the decision to keep the selection panel secret was a mistake in judgment.
“But that’s in the rearview mirror,” he said. “I’m just glad the governor got it right this time.”
Former state Attorney General David Louie, who is representing applicant Hawaii Green Cross LLC, said he was impressed by what appears to be a knowledgeable and well-rounded group of panelists. Forcing the state to make the names public and face scrutiny early on might have even resulted in a higher-quality panel, he said.
But former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, a longtime city prosecutor who is representing The Wellness Group LLC, said releasing the names at this stage has put the selection process in a precarious position.
“Now that the cat is out of the bag, I hope people have the good sense to let them do their jobs in peace,” Carlisle said.
STATE SEATS PAKALOLO PANEL
The members are:
>> H. David Bess: Bess is a professor of management and transportation at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He teaches courses in organizational behavior, the external environment of business, and human resources management, and has more than 40 years of experience in administrative positions at UH.
>> James E. Duffy Jr.: Duffy, a retired state Supreme Court justice, was a founding member of the firm Fujiyama Duffy and Fujiyama and a trial lawyer for 35 years. He has served as a mediator, arbitrator and special master for matters involving business, commercial, real estate, insurance, employment, labor, trust, probate, tort, products liability, personal injury and professional liability.
>> John Fisher III: Fisher, a doctor of pharmacy, is scientific director of Keystone Laboratories and a lab inspector for the College of American Pathologists. He was a founder of the Alabama Poison Center in 1981 and served as its director until 2013. Fisher is a member of the American Board of Applied Toxicology and the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology. He has been scientific director at the Forensic Urine Drug Testing Laboratory.
>> Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser: Shimabukuro-Geiser is deputy to the chairman of the state Board of Agriculture. The longtime agriculture advocate served as president of Mikilua Poultry Farm in Waianae and vice president of the Associated Producers Corp. in Honolulu. Shimabukuro-Geiser is a member of the World Poultry Science Association and the Gamma Sigma Delta Agricultural Honor Society.
>> Keith R. Ridley: Ridley is chief of the Office of Health Care Assurance with the state Health Department. He has overall management and operational responsibility for the state licensing of all health care facilities and federal certification survey programs for all Medicare facilities throughout the state. Prior to joining the state in 2008, he was an independent health care consultant specializing in long-range planning and project management.