The governor of Hawaii says he is “concerned” about efforts to legalize marijuana in the state as reform legislation continues to advance in the legislature.
Gov. David Ige (D) was asked about the prospect of legalizing cannabis during an interview this week with KITV. And while he declined to say whether he would sign or veto a legalization bill if it arrived on his desk, he said the ongoing federal prohibition on marijuana creates complications that would factor into his decision.
“I’d have to look at it. I do have concerns. Marijuana is still a Schedule I substance, which is highly regulated by the federal government,” he said. “Until that is changed, it is confusing for the public to think that it’s legalized here but, if they were to carry it beyond certain quantities, they could actually end up getting prosecuted and sent to prison for a very long time.”
#Marijuana legalization bills are gaining traction in Hawaii legislature this session – @GovHawaii David Ige wouldn't say if he'll sign or veto bill but says he "has concerns" and has been previously been opposed @KITV4 pic.twitter.com/6CwbrCw69o
— Tom George (@TheTomGeorge) March 4, 2021
“I am concerned about the fact that, until it is not a Schedule I substance, that any kind of effort to legalize marijuana might be misconstrued and create unintended consequences for the public,” he added.
Of course, Hawaii has a regulated market for medical cannabis, which is also prohibited under federal law. Also, for what it’s worth, President’ Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney general has said on several occasions that he does not feel the Justice Department should prosecute individuals using marijuana in compliance with state law.
Meanwhile, Hawaii Senate committees on Wednesday voted to advance a bill that would legalize marijuana sales in the state and allow adults 21 and over to grow the plant at home. The legislation’s next stop is the Senate floor.
Under that proposal, adults would be allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use. The state Department of Health would craft rules around business licensing and retail sales by July 1, though it’s not yet clear when stores would open.
Also this week, a separate proposal also moved through committee that would significantly increase the amount of cannabis that is decriminalized under current state law. Another Senate panel passed both measures last month.
The decriminalization expansion legislation would increase the possession threshold from three to 30 grams, or just over an ounce. The full Senate is expected to take up that bill next week.
Ige wasn’t an enthusiastic supporter of the initial decriminalization bill and allowed it to take effect without his signature. He described it as “a very tough call” and said he went “back and forth” on the issue before letting it be enacted.
He also previously vetoed legislation to add opioid use disorder as a medical cannabis qualifying condition.
That history signals that broader reform could similarly face resistance from the governor.
Expressing serious concerns about legalizing cannabis is a unique position for a Democratic governor at a time when, nationally, there’s supermajority support for the reform within the party. And governors in numerous states—including Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Virginia and more—have pushed for the reform this session.
That said, President Joe Biden also continues to oppose legalization while backing more modest reforms such as decriminalizing possession and expunging records.
In other Hawaii drug policy news, a proposal that would have legalized psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use was also introduced this session, but that measure stalled in committee last month.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.