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Hawaii House Leaders Discuss Marijuana Legalization Benefits Ahead Of Hearing On Senate-Passed Bill



Lawmakers in Hawaii’s House of Representatives are set to take up a Senate-passed bill to legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana this week. The chair of one committee slated to consider the measure is optimistic about its chances of being enacted into law, but others—including the House speaker—say the legislature needs to consider the concerns of law enforcement leaders who have criticized the proposal.

“We are in a money crunch here at the state legislature,” Rep. Cedric Gates (D), who chairs the House Agriculture and Food Systems Committee, told local TV station KHON. “We need to look at revenue-generating legislation to help assist us with the shortfall that we currently have.”

In comments to another station, Hawaii News Now, Gates said revenue from legal cannabis sales could support infrastructure, schools, mental health care and “people underage using vape products and cannabis products.”

“These are the dollars that can be applied to those places, because right now we can’t find the money,” he said, noting that legalization could bring in about $80 million in revenue over the first two years and create thousands of jobs.

The legislation would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of cannabis concentrates and would establish a framework for licensed, regulated sales.

Gates said he’s optimistic the bill will make it to the desk of Gov. Josh Green (D), who’s expressed support for the policy change.

“Looking at the decriminalization bill, there was 32 yes votes,” he told Hawaii News Now, referring to a separate cannabis measure that would increase the amount of cannabis covered under the state’s existing limited decriminalization law.

“And that’s on decriminalization, which I think is a tougher vote than actual legalization because…decriminalization doesn’t have a framework or regulatory body to make sure we have oversight on the industry.”

The other House panel at this week’s joint hearing is the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. David Tsarnas (D). In comments to KHON, he said lawmakers are trying “to incorporate those best practices from other states,”

“The goal is to really steer people to the regulated market, because there’s advantages to it,” Tsarnas said. “It’s going to be, tested so it’s safe. It doesn’t have contaminants in it.”

The bill is scheduled to go before a joint hearing of the two committees on Wednesday at 2 p.m.

Hawaii’s speaker of the House, Rep. Scott Saiki (D), was circumspect in his prediction for the bill.

“We’ll see how the House hearing goes,” he told KHON. “The other consideration for us is the opposition from law enforcement.”

One member of law enforcement who’s been an outspoken critic of the proposal is Steve Alm, Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney.

“What the other states have found, when you legalize it, is the black market actually grows because the number of people smoking marijuana increases,” Alm said in an interview with KHON. “I’m also worried that if they legalize it, you’re gonna have illegal grows that the police are not going to be able to tell from a legal grow.”

Even if the bill passes out of the two committees that will consider it this week, many warn it could face a more skeptical reception in the House Finance Committee.

“The Finance Committee is dealing with a lot of different challenges this year,” Rep. Scot Matayoshi (D) told Hawaii News Now. “The budget is very underwater, very in the red.”

“The bill relies on a huge criminal crackdown on the black market, on people selling illegal recreational marijuana,” he said. “That amount of money that we’re going to need to hire all those officers to do all that crackdown is going to leave nothing left over for schools or any other government services.”

Skeptics, Matayoshi continued “would like to see, frankly, a better, more workable plan if we are going to legalize marijuana in the future.”

Last year the Senate passed a separate legalization bill that stalled the House, but advocates are hopeful this year’s proposal could get further. The governor said last month that legalization is a “big social issue that remains” to be addressed in the state, signaling that he’d likely sign a bill to end cannabis prohibition if lawmakers send him one.

This year’s current more-than-300-page bill was formally introduced in both chambers in January and is largely based on a legalization plan unveiled by state Attorney General Anne Lopez (D).

Advocates have complained that the AG-written bill wrongly frames marijuana as a law enforcement issue, though they say recent committee changes have been an improvement.

Here’s are the key provisions of the bill, SB 3335, as passed by the Senate:

  • The proposal would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and up to five grams of concentrates as of January 1, 2026.
  • Home cultivation would be legal, with adults allowed to grow up to six plants and keep as much as 10 ounces of resulting marijuana.
  • The measures would create the Hawaii Hemp and Cannabis Authority to license and regulate adult-use cannabis businesses and the state’s hemp industry.
  • That body would be overseen by a five-member appointed Cannabis Control Board, led by an executive director who would need to have experience in public health or cannabis regulation.
  • Cultivators, processors, medical dispensaries, adult-use retailers, craft dispensaries and independent testing laboratories would be licensed under the plan, with regulators able to adopt rules around special events, social consumption and other special use cases.
  • Adult-use cannabis products would be taxed at 14 percent, while medical cannabis would be subject to a 4 percent tax. Industrial hemp would continue to fall under the state’s general sales tax.
  • Tax revenue from marijuana sales would be divided between a law enforcement-focused fund and another that would promote “cannabis social equity, public health and education, and public safety.”
  • People with convictions for activities made legal under the bill would be able to petition to have their records expunged.
  • People with past felony convictions for cannabis would be eligible to be licensed or work in the legal cannabis industry after 10 years from the end of their incarceration, parole or supervised release.
  • The mere use of cannabis would not be grounds for revoking parental custody, preventing parole or probation or withholding state benefits or entitlements.
  • Driving under the influence of cannabis would remain illegal, with the bill setting a legal limit of 10 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.
  • The bill would provide state-level tax relief for licensed marijuana businesses, allowing them to take deductions that they’re barred from doing at the federal level under Internal Revenue Service code 280E.
  • People with felony convictions on their criminal records could not enter the industry as a licensee or employee until 10 years after their sentences are complete.
  • The possession, manufacture and sale of cannabis paraphernalia would be legal among adults.
  • The bill also would create new criminal penalties for people under 21 found in possession of marijuana, who could face up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for possession of up to three grams.
  • The bill currently includes an effective date of December 31, 2050 “to encourage further discussion.”

Committee amendments made in a Senate panel would legalize cannabis paraphernalia and add non-discrimination provisions around issues such as state benefits and child custody.

The latest version also modifies an earlier ban on people with prior felonies from operating in the regulated industry, now specifying that the ban does not apply once 10 years have passed from the end of a person’s completed sentence.

As for how the state would spend money around legalization, however, that’s an open question: The recent amendments included blanking out all appropriations values in the legislation, which will force lawmakers to renegotiate those numbers.

Democrats in control of Hawaii’s Senate said in January that cannabis legalization is one of their top priorities this legislative session, framing the reform as a means to boost the state’s economy.

State residents, for their part, seem to support the change. A Hawai’i Perspectives survey published last month by the Pacific Resource Partnership found 58 percent support for legalization.

In November, the AG’s office defended an earlier version of the legislation it put forward earlier that month after law enforcement officials criticized the proposed reform. David Day, a special assistant with the attorney general’s office, said at the time that the concerns were overblown and the legalization measure that’s been put forward deliberately took into account law enforcement perspectives.

Advocates 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. Green 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, the Hawaii 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 last month 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 proposal has support from some state agencies, such as the Disability and Communications Access Board and governor’s Office of Wellness and Resilience (OWR), as well as a variety of reform advocates, including the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, the Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center and the Clarity Project.

Opponents include some medical groups, including the Hawaii Medical Association and Hawaii Academy of Family Physicians, which said there’s still too little information about the safety and efficacy of psilocybin.

Last week the House, meanwhile, approved a bill to automatically expunge tens of thousands of arrest and conviction records for low-level marijuana possession cases. That measure now heads to the Senate.

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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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