A hemp retailer in Hawaii is suing the state’s health department after a June search and seizure of his chain of stores.
Mark White, owner of Pinky’s Hempire, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Hawaii Department of Health and its director, reports the Honolulu Civil Beat. White and his lawyer allege that state regulators passed new administrative rules without proper public notice.
White and his lawyer allege that state regulators passed new administrative rules without proper public notice.
“There’s a fundamental fairness question here,” White’s lawyer, James DiPasquale, told the Civil Beat.
State officials declined to comment to the Civil Beat because the litigation is active.
Here’s How the Timeline Played Out
When hemp was legalized in the state in 2020, legislators tasked the Hawaii Department of Health with establishing administrative rules for details from testing and labeling requirements to penalties for violations.
In August 2021, health regulators put the kibosh on food and drinks containing hemp derivatives. They also banned smokable hemp. Hemp-derived supplements with naturally occurring cannabinoids including CBD were still allowed in forms like capsules, liquid extracts and products for skin or hair.
The Hawaii Department of Health said at the time that the new rules were meant to balance the business needs of farmers with safety of people using the products.
White opened the first in his chain of stores in October 2021.
“He was careful,” reporter Stewart Yerton wrote for the Civil Beat, “to sell hemp-based products using only the sorts of ingredients allowed by the rules.”
But after that, regulators continued to change the interim rules without giving the public a chance to offer comments in public hearings, White’s attorney says. In late February 2022, delta-8 and delta-10 THC were explicitly banned. And the rules on THC were further tweaked in April.
The Hawaii Legislature had included an exception for the Department of Health to adopt and amend interim rules without the normal hearing and notice requirements, according to the Civil Beat. (Whether the initial set of rules were published as “interim rules” may become important to the case.)
But White told the Civil Beat that continuing to amend the regulations was, in practice, unfair to retailers.
White told the Civil Beat that continuing to amend the regulations was, in practice, unfair to retailers.
“It was almost like changing the rules in the middle of the game,” he said. “And not just changing the rules, but not telling you.”
The June search and product seizures appear to have been spurred by two reports of illness the health department received about items from Pinky’s Hempire. Former employees of the Waikiki location told Hawaii News Now in June that they’d reported concerns about product safety at to the state.
White dismissed those accusations, telling Hawaii News Now he was running a legitimate business and the accusations were an attack by disgruntled workers.
However, independent testing by the news outlet found that multiple edibles from the store contained “potentially dangerous levels” of THC.
A surveillance effort involving local law enforcement and the federal Food and Drug Administration preceded the search and seizure.
Since the June raid, Pinky’s Hempire has reopened a kiosk at a market in Waikiki, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat.