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Hawaii Governor Floats Plan To Allow Medical Marijuana For Any Condition After Recreational Legalization Bill Fails



Following the failure of a Hawaii bill to legalize cannabis for adults, Gov. Josh Green (D) says he has “a possible solution” to the issue: vastly expanding the state’s existing medical marijuana system to allow people to register based on any health concern rather than needing to have one of a specific list of conditions.

“This would make it very available—that’s marijuana—for those who choose it in their lives,” the governor said in an interview with Hawaii News Now, “and it would still keep kids safe, which has been everyone’s priority.”

At the same time, Green reiterated his support for full recreational legalization.

“I think for adults who can responsibly use marijuana, it should be legal,” he said.

The governor’s comments came immediately following House lawmakers’ decision to kill a Senate-passed cannabis legalization bill earlier this month. Earlier this week, the Senate also voted to scuttle a separate measure that would have expanded the state’s existing marijuana decriminalization law.

“I hadn’t anticipated that,” Green said when told on-air that the legalization bill had fizzled out. And though he said House members’ vote was “their prerogative,” he also floated what he called “a possible solution on this matter.”

“A lot of people do want recreational marijuana. A lot of law enforcement folks feel it’s a big danger,” the governor said. “I think probably there is a place to find a more happy medium, and that is to expand people’s capacity to get medical marijuana under any circumstance that they deem necessary with their physician.”

Green likened such a policy to reproductive rights in Hawaii—saying he’s been “adamant that women be able to make their own decisions about their bodies with their healthcare provider”—and also the state’s medical assistance in dying law for terminally ill people.

“They make that decision with their healthcare provider, and I think we could apply that same principle to the medical use of marijuana, which would significantly expand people’s legal use of marijuana but would still leave regulation in place regarding children.”

“You’d probably see a doubling of medical marijuana use,” he speculated, “but it would be legal and safe. I have shared that idea with people in case the [legalization] bill died.”

Currently Hawaii’s medical marijuana program requires patients to be diagnosed with at least one of about 10 qualifying conditions for the medical marijuana program.

Green said he believes the change could be made by regulators without needing to pass a bill through the legislature. It would open eligibility to “any disease state that they felt they wanted to discuss with their physician or nurse practitioner.”

“I might be able to do that through rulemaking,” he explained, “which I think would be fairly OK with the law enforcement community. I have talked to them about it.”

As for the House vote on adult-use legalization, he said: “I think that we should trust adults but be mindful of the collateral concerns we have with marijuana, and that’s probably why they still aren’t there.”

Green said he’d been working on the medical marijuana expansion proposal and “preparing for that kind of compromise” but waited to air the plan “because I didn’t want to disrupt the dynamic at the legislature.”

“See how sensitive and careful I am?” he quipped.

The change would also allow patients more privacy around the specifics of their medical histories or diagnoses, Green added.

“We have seen, in many different disease states, people not wanting to get healthcare because they were afraid that they were going to be judged by society,” he said. “That was the case with HIV”—one of the current qualifying conditions—”for a long time. It’s been the case with mental illness for a very long time. And any kind of drug consumption, because some people still judge individuals who use medical marijuana under any circumstances.”

Advocates said Green’s idea is one reform among many that could improve the state’s medical marijuana system.

“It’s encouraging that Governor Green is committed to exploring ways that his administration can strengthen Hawaii’s overly restrictive medical cannabis statute to help facilitate greater access,” Nikos Leverenz, of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i and the Hawai’i Health and Harm Reduction Center, said in an email to Marijuana Moment. “Giving medical professionals the latitude to recommend medical cannabis for conditions where its use may be of benefit is an important step.”

Leverenz also encouraged Green to look at other adjustments that could be accomplished administratively.

“Over the course of the past half decade there have been many proposals considered by the legislature that can also benefit patients,” he said, “including delivery services, access to cuttings for home grow, and increasing the amounts that dispensaries are able to transfer to one another. These could also conceivably be done through regulatory changes.”

Other changes that could benefit patients in the state, Leverenz added, include “authorization of access to dispensary-produced edibles and tinctures made by patients in facilities providing hospice care,” as is allowed in California under a 2022 law, as well as providing employment protections to medical cannabis patients.

“Even non adult-use states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia ensure that patients are not subject to workplace discrimination,” he said. “This reform likely requires legislation, but it could be part of his administration’s legislative package next year.”

As supporters and opponents of cannabis reform have pointed out, this past session has marked the furthest any marijuana legalization measure has made it through Hawaii’s legislature.

The more-than-300-page cannabis bill was formally introduced in both chambers in January and was based on a legalization plan written by state Attorney General Anne Lopez (D), who was appointed by Green in December 2022. It would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of cannabis concentrates.

Ahead of a legislative deadline earlier this month, Rep. Kyle Yamashita (D), who chairs the House Finance Committee, announced that his panel would not hear the legalization measure, SB 3335.

The decision effectively killed bill, which had already passed the full Senate and several House committees this session before only barely advancing in an initial House floor vote.

Much of the pushback came from law enforcement and politicians who seized onto warnings about the potential harms of legalization, Rep. Gene Ward (R), for example, warned that if the bill becomes law, “homelessness is going to be catalyzed by the increase in use of marijuana.”

Ward said that among unhoused people in Hawaii, “the most accessible thing to them is marijuana, even though it’s the cheap wine and the booze that they’re doing also.”

Ward also noted in his floor comments that AG Lopez’s office itself has said that she does not support the reform.

The attitude reflects warnings that law enforcement and some other state agencies made in testimony about the bill.

Some Democratic leaders also vocally opposed the reform. Democratic Majority Whip Rep. Scot Matayoshi, for instance, said before last month’s House floor vote that he didn’t think colleagues “should vote with reservations or vote in favor of this bill just to see it move along.”

“We can’t be voting on a bill that has some good parts but also has an incredible harm to our society in the form of legalizing recreational marijuana,” he said.

In November, the AG’s office defended an earlier version of the legislation it put forward earlier that month after Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm said law enforcement were firmly against legalizing marijuana. David Day, a special assistant with the attorney general’s office, said at the time that the legalization measure deliberately took into account law enforcement perspectives.

Advocates previously struggled under former Democratic Gov. Dave Ige, who resisted legalization in part because he said he was reluctant to pass something that conflicts with federal law. But since Green took office, activists have felt more emboldened. The current governor said in 2022 that he’d sign a bill to legalize cannabis for adults and already had ideas about how tax revenue could be utilized.

Last April, Hawaii’s legislature also approved a resolution calling on the governor to create a clemency program for people with prior marijuana convictions on their records.

As for other drug policy matters, lawmakers in February advanced a bill that would provide certain legal protections to patients engaging in psilocybin-assisted therapy with a medical professional’s approval. The measure would not legalize psilocybin itself but would instead create an affirmative legal defense for psilocybin use and possession in the case of doctor-approved use under the guidance of a trained facilitator.

The legislature did pass two other measures that would take steps toward expunging certain marijuana-related criminal records, however. Last week the House approved HB 1595, which would create a pilot program around marijuana expungements. It cleared the chamber on a 41–9 vote, with one member excused and now proceeds to Gov. Josh Green (D), who has said he supports legalization.

Senators also signed off this week on SB 2706, which would create a so-called Clean Slate Expungement Task Force charged with crafting legislation for a state-led record-clearing program. While that expungements bill does not explicitly mention cannabis, marijuana-related offenses are widely expected to be included in the would-be task force’s discussions.

The new body would include state officials—including the attorney general, chief justice, public defender and various prosecutors—as well as representatives from various advocacy groups, including ACLU, LPP, the Hawaii Innocence Project and others.

The governor can sign the bills, veto them or allow them to become law without his signature.

‘No Evidence’ That Marijuana Legalization For Adults Increases Youth Cannabis Use, New Research Published By American Medical Association Finds

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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