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Marijuana Legalization Will Be A Top Priority For Hawaii Legislature In 2019

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Considering the legalization of marijuana will be a top priority for Hawaii lawmakers this year, Senate President Ron Kouchi (D) said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the opening of the new legislative session, Kouchi talked about the chamber’s agenda going into 2019, which includes cannabis reform, raising the minimum wage and reducing homelessness.

Senate Majority Leader Kalani English (D) embraced Kouchi’s proposal, saying that legal marijuana could bring in significant tax revenue. The state has reached a “tipping point” as more states pursue their own adult-use cannabis systems, he said.

The state Democratic Party moved last month to list legalizing recreational cannabis as a “tier one top priority” for the 2019 legislative session.

But even in the legislature’s dominantly Democratic-controlled chambers, advancing marijuana reform has been an arduous process. Cannabis-related bills have consistently stalled, or been shot down, over the past two decades, Hawaii News Now reported.

And even if adult-use legalization legislation made its way to the governor’s desk, its fate would be uncertain. Gov. David Ige (D) said that he remains concerned about conflicting federal laws and that “[a]ny person coming to the islands has to know that they’re crossing a federal boundary which would make them subject to criminal sanctions.”

Ige has stood in the way of more modest reform efforts in the past, too. Last year, he vetoed a bill that would have allowed people with opioid use disorders to qualify for medical cannabis in the state—a move that was rebuked by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).

“With such a stark increase in prescription opioid use and dependence, heroin and synthetic drug overdose, and emergency room visits over the last decade, we must allow legal access to medical marijuana to help prevent opioid addiction and opioid-related deaths,” Gabbard, who ended up backing Ige’s unsuccessful primary opponent, said in a press release. “This legislation has the potential to save people’s lives in Hawaii… Understanding that people’s lives are at stake, I urge Governor Ige to reconsider and sign this legislation into law now.”

In spite of the obstacles, though, the Senate president’s assurance that considering legalization will be a legislative priority seems to signal that Hawaii is prepared at the very least to seriously weigh reform at a time when a growing number of states across the country are moving to end cannabis prohibition.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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