Janice Okubo, Communications Director Hawaii State Department of Health

Our July Speaker was Janice Okubo, Communications Director at the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH).  Her office handles the media relations and public information for all public health issues.  Janice has a fine arts degree from the University of Hawaii.  She says the background gave her two valuable lessons: 1) how to receive criticism and learn from it and 2) the value of process…learning the steps and being open to innovation.  Both of these lessons have helped her in her role at the DOH.

Janice’s presentation topic was medical marijuana and how the Department of Health worked to build a program for the coordination of patient registration, dispensary licensing and certification of testing labs in largely unknown and uncharted territory with no national guidelines. More than 17 years ago Act 228 was signed into law, allowing qualified patients to register with the state for the use of and ability to grow medical marijuana.  In 2015 the responsibility of oversight was transferred to the Department of Health.

DOH was not given any additional funding or staffing to oversee this program.  At the time, there were 11,000 registered patients all managed in a paper-based format.  The DOH has created a website to handle registration, information and certification. The number of registered patients has increased by more than 30% to over 17,000 registered patients.

Besides the oversight on patient registration, DOH now supports the dispensary-licensing program.  The DOH was tasked with screening over 66 applicants and selected 8 qualified dispensary licensees.  Other States have begun medical marijuana programs without lab testing requirements leading to some serious health issues.  The Hawaii DOH is working to certify labs to ensure safe product for qualified patients.
Janice closed her talk by recognizing four women she considers strong and brilliant leaders in public health who she feels fortunate to have worked with at DOH.  They are the past four directors of the department:

  • Dr.  Chiyome Fukino
  • Loretta Fuddy
  • Dr. Linda Rosen
  • Dr. Virginia Pressler, the current director