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Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Clears Another House Committee After Passing Full Senate



Another House committee in Hawaii has advanced a bill that would legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana in the state, making one amendment concerning labor peace agreement for cannabis businesses before signing off on the legislation.

The House Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee voted 7–3 on Tuesday to advance the proposal, SB 3335, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of cannabis concentrates. It next proceeds to the House Finance Committee.

“I think that this bill is taking the best practices across the nation amongst other 24 states that have already passed a legalization bill to try to do something to address the issues that we currently face,” said Rep. Cedric Gates (D), “whether it’s people selling CBD products or hemp-derived products in our communities with no regulation or going after individuals or entities selling to our youth.”

“I believe that this bill will provide funding as well as the personnel to really get a handle and have oversight, which we currently do not have in this free-for-all market with the legalization of cannabis,” said Gates, who chairs the House Agriculture and Food Systems Committee that approved the legislation last week and who is a member of the latest panel to sign off on the measure.

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 passed a version of the bill earlier this month, and in recent weeks it’s been making its way through the House.

Before approving the bill on Tuesday, the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee added an amendment requiring marijuana businesses to have labor peace agreements with bonafide labor unions.

Doing so, Chairman Mark Nakashima (D) said, “protects the state’s proprietary interests by prohibiting labor organizations from engaging in picketing, work stoppages or boycotts against the cannabis establishment.”

Last week, two panels at a joint hearing made a number of amendments to the bill that eased rules and penalties that many advocates had called too harsh.

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

Other changes clarified that colleges and universities may allow cannabis use by faculty and adult students, including in faculty and student housing; prevent landlords from banning consumption of non-inhaled marijuana in private rental units; amended rules around open packages of cannabis in vehicles; replaced references to “paraphernalia” with references to “cannabis accessories”; and made various clean-up adjustments to the language of the bill, according to a report from the two committees.

The advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which at past hearings offered comments without taking a position on the legislation overall, has since updated its stance to support the bill with amendments.

“We heartily support protecting health and safety as part of legalization,” the group said in submitted testimony. “However, the Attorney General office-drafted bill’s singular focus resulted in an approach that is overly focused on law enforcement and re-criminalization.”

“While SD 2 and HD 1 have made significant improvements from the as-introduced bill,” MPP continued, we urge a greater focus on reinvesting in communities, justice, and building an equitable and inclusive industry.”

Specifically, the group wants to see at least 50 percent of cannabis excise tax revenues routed to a state social equity and reinvestment fund. It also wants a per-se DUI limit removed, among other changes.

Joining several law enforcement officials who have testified against the bill at several previous hearings was former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), who made a rare appearance before the legislature on Tuesday to speak out in opposition to legalizing cannabis.

Enacting the reform would cause a host of problems, she argued, saying it will “lead to increased mental health problems, particularly for teenagers; it will negatively impact the state’s economy because legalizing marijuana will discourage Japanese tourists and families from everywhere from visiting Hawaii; it will cause more fatal car crashes; it will increase black market sales of the drug; it will result in four times as much in healthcare and related costs over what you might collect in taxes.”

“It is a bad law for Hawaii, especially for those communities of persistent poverty,” she said. “Passage of this bill would be rolling the dice on our economic and social future. It is a gamble not worth the risk.”

Lingle, who was in office from 2002 to 2010, was one of only two Republican governors of Hawaii since it became a state in 1959. She told the committee it was her first time testifying at the legislature in the 14 years since she’s left office, explaining that it’s because she feels so strongly against the proposal.

“I say if we’re an outlier and we’re one of the states that doesn’t legalize recreational marijuana, good for us,” she said. “I think that makes us a better state.”

Gary Yabuta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) in Hawaii, said controlling marijuana has been his top priority over more than four decades of law enforcement.

“This is Hawaii, and in 45 years in the criminal justice system, this is my biggest fight,” Yabuta said.

Across the country, “not one of my 33 HIDTA directors favors marijuana,” he added, “because they see the devastation of legalized marijuana in their states.”

In testimony to the committee, Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for MPP, worked to counter critics’ claims, arguing that both the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that marijuana has not increased youth use. As for warnings by law enforcement and some medical professionals that psychosis will skyrocket in the state, O’Keefe pointed to an American Medical Association-published study finding no significant increase in psychosis diagnoses or prescriptions of antipsychotics.

She reminded lawmakers that a recent poll shows 58 percent of Hawaii voters support legalizing and regulating marijuana.

Nikos Leverenz, of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i and the Hawai’i Health and Harm Reduction Center, told the panel that New Mexico’s recent experience implementing a marijuana legalization law demonstrates that setting up the system doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive.

“I believe it was $3.5 million each year for the first three years,” he said, in terms of costs to the state, “and in its first full year of operation, they saw $300 million in gross sales and $27 million in tax revenue.”

In comments to Marijuana Moment, Leverenz said additionally that it “remains disheartening to hear the criminal legal lobby continue to misrepresent the dangers of cannabis use before the legislature and the media,” adding that cannabis prohibition itself is deeply harmful.”

“In 2020, Native Hawaiian and Filipino children were vastly overrepresented in those arrests compared to use data provided by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey,” he said. “Cannabis prohibition regrettably ‘primes the pump’ for extensive criminal legal system involvement.”

Here 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 month 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.

Hawaii 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 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. 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, 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 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.

Legalizing Marijuana For Adults Does Not Drive Increases In Youth Use, New Federally Funded Study 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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