Chart: Lots of patients, small purchases in Hawaii’s first month of medical marijuana sales

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By Eli McVey

Medical cannabis sales in Hawaii officially began in August following several months of delays and setbacks.

While initial data suggests the state’s program is comparable to others on the mainland, a closer look reveals just how unique the market really is.

After opening on consecutive days, the state’s only two operational dispensaries – Maui Grown Therapies and Oahu’s Aloha Green – combined for an estimated $304,000 worth of sales over the program’s first month.

How does that compare to some other new markets that opened in recent years?

It’s extremely close to the estimated $284,000 in sales that took place in the first month of MMJ sales in Massachusetts in July 2015, another program that launched with a limited number of dispensaries and a similar number of registered patients.

But total sales for these two programs were realized in completely different ways:

  • In Massachusetts, 896 transactions took place over the program’s first 30 days, with the average customer purchasing nearly 22 grams of MMJ from the state’s single operational dispensary.
  • In Hawaii, more than 5,600 customers walked through dispensary doors, purchasing an average of 3.3 grams of MMJ per visit – nearly seven times less than the average purchase size in Massachusetts.

Hawaii’s dispensaries therefore attracted many more patients during the first month of sales, but the average purchase was much smaller than in Massachusetts – where most visitors essentially bought in bulk.

Illinois, which launched its MMJ market nearly two years ago, more closely mirrored the situation in Massachusetts, with fewer patients buying more cannabis per transaction than in Hawaii. The average patient in Illinois purchased approximately 32 grams of cannabis across the state’s 16 dispensaries over the first month of sales.

It’s important to note that each state tracked transaction data differently – patient visits in Hawaii, unique visits in Illinois and transactions in Massachusetts. So it’s not exactly apples to apples.

But these metrics measure similar aspects of dispensary sales and activity, allowing one to draw broad conclusions about Hawaii’s first month of MMJ sales.

And even if you adjust for the differences, the overall premise still holds true that Hawaii attracted many more patients in its first month of sales but that average transaction volume was lower.

Chris Garth, executive director of the Hawaii Dispensary Alliance, attributes the large number of dispensary visitors to Hawaii’s engaged patient community, which demonstrated a high degree of awareness regarding the island’s MMJ program. The state allows home growing and has had an active patient base since 2000.

“I think the general statement is that our patient population has been waiting for safe access to medicine for about 17 years,” Garth said. “There were countless requests to know where dispensaries were going to be located, when they would open, who was going to be the first to open and what products were they going to be carrying.”

But MMJ is widely available on the island – often at significantly lower prices through caregivers or the black market – and for simple financial reasons patients could be using dispensaries as a supplement to their existing stocks of MMJ.

“Price could certainly be an issue. A lot of the costs that the licensees had to encumber just to get product to the shelf were pretty exorbitant,” Garth said. “Energy prices are some of the highest in the nation out here, property prices are some of the highest in the nation out here.”

Getting such a high volume of patients to visit a dispensary is an encouraging sign for Hawaii’s licensed MMJ businesses, and with infused products expected to appear on store shelves in the coming weeks, dispensaries could gain a competitive advantage over other MMJ suppliers on the island.

But that’s an open question. And though Hawaii’s MMJ program is still in the early stages, if dispensaries are to develop into sustainable, profitable businesses, they’ll need to capture more than just a minority share of patients’ MMJ spending.

Eli McVey can be reached at