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Hawaii Joint House Panels Advance Senate-Passed Marijuana Legalization Bill With Amendments Addressing Advocates’ Concerns



Lawmakers at a joint legislative hearing in Hawaii’s House of Representatives have advanced a Senate-passed bill that would legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana.

The proposal, SB 3335, 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.

The Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee approved the measure with a 7-3 vote on Wednesday, while the Agriculture and Food Systems Committee advanced it on a 5-1 tally.

“I am really trying to follow the lead of the attorney general to come up with a balanced, reasonable and moderate bill that protects public safety and public health, and basically sets up a regulatory framework so that we can have an adult-use cannabis industry that will function well and is fair and reasonable,” said Rep. David Tarnas (D), the sponsor of companion legislation and chair of the Judiciary panel.

The more-than-300-page bill was formally introduced in both chambers in January and is based on a legalization plan written by state Attorney General Anne Lopez (D), who was appointed by the governor in December 2022.

The Senate has already passed the bill, voting 19–6 earlier this month.

In the joint House hearing, the panels each adopted a wide-ranging amendment that made several changes to the legislation. Some served to relax rules that critics had called overly strict and punitive.

For example, one change reduces the proposed penalty for selling cannabis to a minor from a felony to a misdemeanor, which Tarnas said mirrors the state’s current statue around alcohol sales to minors. Another would allow caregivers to administer nonsmokeable medical marijuana to a minor on school grounds or in a vehicle.

Other revisions reduce the scope of a provision prohibiting open containers of marijuana in vehicles.

“That language is too strict and the consumption of cannabis is not completely analogous to alcohol, which is what I think that language is modeled after,” Tarnas said. “If you open up a container of edibles, and you have it in your backpack, that’s an open container, and that would be a problem. And if you’re on a bus, if you’re in a taxi, ride share, that could be a problem.”

Another change says that colleges and universities could allow possession or use or marijuana by adults 21 and older, with the schools able to adopt further regulations around consumption. Students and faculty members with medical marijuana cards would also be able to use the drug.

More minor adjustments include adding a position to the cannabis regulatory board for a member with “expertise in Hawaii’s agricultural community,” Tarnas said, as well as cleaning up language to clarify conflicting uses of “cannabis paraphernalia” and “cannabis accessories.”

Yet another change, proposed by the Hawaii Youth Services Network, says that grants through the proposed social equity program could be awarded to childcare, preschool, after-school and summer programs.

AG Lopez’s office was among those witnesses who together submitted nearly 500 pages of written testimony ahead of the hearing. Some commenters came out in support or opposition, while others offered nuanced comments and suggestions.

“If the Legislature chooses to legalize adult-use cannabis,” the AG’s office wrote, “legislation should be balanced and moderate, with a focus on protecting public health and public safety to the greatest degree possible.”

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

Various other government agencies, advocacy groups and individuals also testified on the bill.

Many in law enforcement expressed opposition.

The Hawaii Department of Law Enforcement (DLE), for example, said it has “serious concerns” about the reform, warning of increased roadway dangers from impaired drivers and claiming that legalization would fail to curtail the state’s existing illicit market. The department said it’s “most concerned about a potential rise in violent crime that could result in Hawaii as the result of cannabis legalization,” pointing to a mass murder in San Bernardino County, California, that the department hinted could be related to organized crime or cartel activity.

“If cannabis becomes legalized for adult use in Hawaii as SB 3335 proposes,” the department’s testimony says, “then the DLE fears that California’s experience with cannabis-related violent crime may establish a foothold in Hawaii and increase the risk of violence in the community.”

The Hawaii Paroling Authority, meanwhile, also opposed the proposal, calling marijuana “the ‘gateway’ drug” and warning that “allowing the recreational use of marijuana will cause an increase in traffic deaths, psychosis, schizophrenia, and acts of violence in comparison to current data.”

“Legalization of recreational marijuana will only add to the safety risks faced by HPA parole officers,” it said.

Others, including NORML, testified in support of the legislation. Paul Armentano, the group’s deputy director, wrote that criticism that the measure would expand the illicit market is unfounded.

“Legalization neither creates nor normalizes the cannabis market,” he told lawmakers. “The market is already prevalent in Hawaii. But under a policy of criminal prohibition, this market remains underground and those involved in it remain unaccountable. They don’t pay taxes, they don’t check IDs, and they don’t test the purity of their product. Disputes that arise in the illicit marketplace are not adjudicated in courts of law.”

But some legalization advocates were more hesitant to sign on to the AG-drafted proposal. ACLU of Hawaii wrote that “we offer comments, instead of full support, as the draft measure currently includes provisions that will likely increase criminal convictions and incarceration for conduct that does not jeopardize public safety.”

“Additionally, this draft falls short of the robust social equity and reparative justice reforms required to address the harms and collateral consequences of cannabis arrest and conviction records that last a lifetime,” ACLU wrote.

Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at Marijuana Policy Project, made similar remarks, urging lawmakers “to amend and then pass SB 3335.”

While cannabis legalization is an essential criminal justice reform,” she wrote, “SB 3335, SD 2 takes an overly punitive approach and fails to include a sufficient commitment to equity. Alarmingly, the bill could result in more people being ensnared in the criminal justice system for cannabis instead of less.”

O’Keefe also pushed back against some critics’ claims, which she testified were “untethered to reality.” In fact, she said, teen cannabis use has generally dropped in legal states, nor have there been increases in psychosis or fatal crashes.

The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii’s board president, Nikos Leverenz, also submitted comments, drawing attention to concerns including the bill’s new criminal penalties for youth offenders, its allowance for the use of cannabis odor as a pretext for a warrantless search, a per se DUI limit of 10 nanograms of THC per milliter of blood and an open container law that critics say is overbroad.

“Ongoing cannabis prohibition needlessly raises the overall year-to-year costs of Hawai῾i’s criminal legal system, where terms of probation or parole are lengthened apart from a more calibrated determination of safety risks to the community,” Leverenz wrote. “While cannabis use is not entirely devoid of individual health risks, its use does not produce the injury, illness, and death resulting from regular or problematic use of alcohol or tobacco, two widely used licit substances that are not included in the federal Controlled Substances Act.”

Gary S. Suganuma, director of the state’s Department of Taxation, for example, took no position on the proposal but said that if legalization goes forward, the department “will need two auditors, one cashier, three special enforcement section investigators, two tax information technicians, and two tax law change specialists to implement and administer the tax law provisions.”

It also asked that the bill take effect “no earlier than January 1, 2026″—which is currently the measure’s target start.

Here’s are the key provisions of the bill, SB 3335:

  • 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 an 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.”
  • A recent amendment blanked out all appropriations values in the legislation, an effort to force lawmakers to renegotiate those numbers.
  • 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.”

As for expungements around past marijuana offenses, earlier this week a Senate panel gutted a House-passed bill that initially would have directed the state to automatically expunge tens of thousands of arrest and conviction records for low-level marijuana possession. The amended bill instead limits the relief to a one-county pilot program covering less than 15 percent of state residents.

Last year the Senate passed a separate legalization bill that later stalled the House, but advocates are hopeful this year’s proposal could get further. Gov. Josh Green (D) 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.

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 seem to support the change. A recent Hawai’i Perspectives survey 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 Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm said law enforcement are firmly against legalizing marijuana. David Day, a special assistant with the attorney general’s office, said at the time that Alm’s 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.

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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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