Following a late-January legislative hearing, Hawaii’s Senate Judiciary Committee decided on Thursday to approve the state’s current bill to legalize cannabis. Passed in a unanimous 5-0 vote, the legislation has been co-sponsored by 12 of the 25 members of Hawaii’s Senate and cites, “the legalization of marijuana for personal or recreational use is a natural, logical, and reasonable outgrowth of the current science of marijuana and attitude toward marijuana.”1
Referred to as SB686, the bill would allow for the use, possession, and sale of cannabis, permitting the operation of related establishments under proper licensing. Limiting possession to one ounce, the bill also applies state excise and income taxes to cannabis businesses.
Speaking on the committee’s decision, executive director of the activist group Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii (“DPFH”), Carl Bergquist stated, “This is the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that a legislative committee here has moved a legalization bill. It’s very exciting.”2
The bill would not only legalize cannabis for the state, but also has components to address restorative justice for previous criminal convictions. Whether or not it will be implemented is yet to be determined, as the amendments are not currently public.3
Now, the legislation is to be sent to the state’s finance policy committee, Ways and Means.4 Before the bill is formally voted on by the Senate, it is expected to be subject to several Senate panels and review.
Hawaii’s potential legalization for cannabis does mark a noteworthy change in how cannabis law has been presented within the United States. In recent years, legalization has been a direct result of citizen initiatives. As of this time, Vermont is the only state to have legalized by means of a legislature-passed bill.5 Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Maine, and Michigan legalized recreational cannabis by ballot measures.
While advocates are hopeful for the bill’s future, it is still too early to determine. Hawaii’s Senate is predominately controlled by Democrats, and the state has had a medical cannabis program since 2000. The initiative has been supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and referenced the preexisting cannabis regulatory systems in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington.6
Still, opposition groups do present a challenge to its potential legalization. In August of 2018, Gov. David Ige (D) expressed reservations on the topic, stating, “I do not support allowing the sale of recreational marijuana in Hawaii because existing federal restrictions on the recreational use of the drug can be federally enforced and there is only limited data available on potential impacts.”7
If Hawaii does successfully pass the bill as law, retail sales would not be expected until mid-winter of 2021.
- “SB686.” Hawaii State Legislature. February 07, 2019. Accessed February 08, 2019. https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=686&year=2019
- Jaeger, Kyle. “Hawaii Lawmakers Unanimously Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill In Committee.” Marijuana Moment. February 07, 2019. Accessed February 08, 2019. https://www.marijuanamoment.net/hawaii-lawmakers-unanimously-approve-marijuana-legalization-bill-in-committee/.
- Burnett, John. “Marijuana Legalization Bill Clears Committee Hurdle.” Hawaii Tribune-Herald. February 08, 2019. Accessed February 08, 2019. https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/2019/02/08/hawaii-news/marijuana-legalization-bill-clears-committee-hurdle/.
- Wilson, Reid. “Vermont Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Bill.” The Hill. January 23, 2018. Accessed February 08, 2019. https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/370139-vermont-governor-signs-marijuana-legalization-bill
- Burnett, John. “Marijuana Legalization Bill Clears Committee Hurdle.”
- “David Ige (D).” KHON. August 02, 2018. Accessed February 08, 2019. https://www.khon2.com/news/political-news/david-ige-d-/1335572947.