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PEPEEKEO — Richard Ha, one of the first people selected to open medical marijuana dispensaries on Hawaii Island, gave the community on Tuesday a glimpse into his company’s budding plans.

The longtime banana farmer who’s now head of the dispensary company Lau Ola, held a blessing and groundbreaking near the spot soon to become its first production and cultivation center — a roughly 25,000-square-foot facility that will largely be used to grow 3,000 marijuana plants.

“The main emphasis is our community,” Ha told the more than 50 neighbors, friends and community members gathered in the open-air packing house that once served as hub for his banana operations. ” … I want to make sure everyone feels comfortable being able to talk to us anytime you have any comments … When we first started this, that was my requirement to be involved. One, was my workers. Two was the security of our neighbors … and the third one was, I had to have a position where I could make sure I could emphasize my values.”

Lau Ola ceased banana operations on the 600-acre farm earlier this year. Ha said he wants to employ as many former workers as possible, but doesn’t know how many that will be just yet.

Tuesday’s event was ceremonial — Lau Ola hasn’t set a hard construction start date. But company leaders want to start soon, because they hope to open for business by early 2017.

“I’m really hoping we’re operational in the first quarter of the year,” said Dylan Shropshire, Lau Ola’s chief production officer. “The shell and the slab of the (production center) will go up really quickly. The design and everything is ready, now it’s just en route and we’re just kind working out all the details inside.”

Lau Ola is among eight companies statewide awarded licenses earlier this year to open Hawaii’s first dispensaries. Medical cannabis has been legal since 2000 but the state has never provided its roughly 14,000 patients a way to legally buy it. Hawaii Island received two licenses, initially. A company managed by Waimea-based retired attorney Shelby Floyd received the other license.

Each licensee can operate up to two production centers and two retail dispensing stores. Lau Ola is starting with one grow center, initially, but it’s eyeing a second in the near future contingent on product demand. The company plans to grow 3,000 plants immediately — the maximum allowed per center under state law — and plans to cultivate using electricity from its already-in-place hydroelectric system. Ha is exploring other electricity options down the road, however, including, a possible solar PV system or growing under a roof which lets in sunshine.

Current law requires cannabis to be grown in enclosed, indoor facilities however a bill passed this year will allow dispensary operators to eventually grow in facilities that let in natural light.

“We are going to consider (sunlight) because it’s pretty clear that makes a lot of sense, but you’ve also got to run the numbers,” Ha said.

Lau Ola plans to offer as many cannabis products as the state allows, Shropshire said, which includes capsules, oils, ointments, trans-dermal patches and inhalers. The company plans to offer multiple strains with varying levels of tetrahydrocannabinol — commonly called or THC — the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and cannabidiol oil, commonly called CBD oil.

“We believe every single medicine really should have multiple ways to consume that medicine,” Shropshire said. “For example a child with epilepsy — a trans-dermal patch will help them to have a nice supply of CBD and cannabinoid throughout the day.”

Lau Ola wants to operate retail stores in Hilo and Kona but locations first must be OK’d by the state Department of Health. Hawaii law limits where dispensaries can operate. For example, they can’t be located within 750 feet of a school, playground or public housing project or complex.

State law also leaves some questions unanswered. For example, it’s unclear how licensees will be able to acquire their initial batch of seeds or plants. Marijuana remains a federal Schedule 1 drug that is illegal to transport from the mainland and also is illegal to sell under current state law.

Lau Ola leaders said the team hasn’t determined that, yet — “we’re going to do everything we can to stay within the legal parameters of the law,” Shropshire said.

Law also requires samples of all products to be tested in a state-approved laboratory but some are worried there won’t be any certified labs by the time product is ready to be tested. As of Tuesday, the DOH had not received any applications for marijuana testing lab certification, department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said. But she said there are “at least two interested applicants that are very close to submitting their application.”

Ha said he’s trying to keep his plans transparent. He said he’s been working with community members, neighbors and the Kaupakuea Homestead Association near his farm to answer questions and concerns. He jokingly gave out his cell phone number aloud to those at Tuesday’s groundbreaking.

“I think business growth and any sort of agricultural growth is always good for the Big Island,” said one of Ha’s neighbors Susan Bassett. “I think security is always a concern, but from what I’ve read about the regulations, I think security should be very (good). I think he’s done a good job reaching out to the neighbors so I have no concerns.”