Hawaii is known for beautiful sandy beaches, tropical drinks, and a laid-back way of living. With the passage of Senate Bill 669, the state is one step closer to becoming even more laid-back. That’s because SB 669 seeks to legalize the sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana in the Aloha State.
Unfortunately, Hawaii has a track record of proposing progressive agendas only to have them stall before reaching the finish line. Will today’s legalization efforts pass the test under new leadership or fail to find traction in a divided legislature? An early victory for SB 669 may be what it takes to get the ball rolling and bring recreational cannabis to this tropical paradise.
What Is Senate Bill 669?
Senate Bill 669 seeks to establish regulations for the cultivation, manufacturing, sale, and personal use of recreational cannabis in Hawaii. On January 20th, a group of four state Senators introduced the bill. Slowly but consistently, the measure has made it through various committee hearings and smaller votes. Finally, the bill hit the Senate floor and passed in an overwhelming 22 to 3 vote.
At its core, SB 669 would allow Hawaii residents to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and cultivate up to six plants for personal use. The measure would also decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. In addition to legalizing recreational cannabis for adult use, the bill would also establish a Hawaii Cannabis Authority. Debate in the Senate also amended the measure, adding civil penalties for unlicensed cannabis grow operations and preventing cannabis advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and youth-centered areas.
The initial passage of Senate Bill 669 is monumental for Hawaii. It marks the first significant step forward for cannabis legislation in the state in some time.
The Potential Positive Aspects of Cannabis Legalization in Hawaii
Legislators in favor of legalizing cannabis in the state say revenue currently generated from cannabis sales hits the black market and benefits organized criminal organizations. Cannabis advocates say revenue from legal cannabis sales could fund schools, improve communities, and support public programs and projects instead.
Previously, the state tax department estimated that legalizing marijuana could generate as much as $50 million in tax revenue. Currently, Hawaii’s medical cannabis industry generates around $2.5 million in taxes.
Beyond the revenue legalized cannabis could bring the state, most Hawaiians support legalizing adult-use marijuana. The Hawaiian Cannabis Industry Association says in a recent poll that 86% of adult residents support legalizing recreational cannabis. Only 9% voiced their concern and said they oppose legalization efforts.
A Message from the Opposition
Opposition to the new measure suggests that high levels of THC can be detrimental to a person’s physical and mental health. Legislators against passing cannabis legalization also claim that making cannabis easier to access could potentially hurt people who are vulnerable to drug addiction and make the drug problem in the state worse. The executive director for the Hawaii High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area claims legalized cannabis could hurt the community.
Studies indicate more of Hawaii’s youth find themselves trapped in the cycle of addiction. Nearly 1 in 10 middle and high school students in the state report a potential substance abuse disorder. Hawaiian youth may be experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. However, they are also increasingly trying methamphetamine, cocaine, and opiates. Part of the problem with drug addiction in Hawaii is that the state has a shortage of detox beds and needs more youth drug programs. Meth use, in particular, is a growing problem for the state, making some people reluctant to back legalizing cannabis, although the substances have nothing in common.
Sen. Sharon Moriwaki says she is concerned about Hawaiians driving while high. She says the state is taking steps to enact more stringent drunk driving laws and worries about how legalized cannabis fits into the picture.
Those against legalization say SB 668 doesn’t go far enough to address their concerns.
Other Legislation in the Works
SB 699 isn’t the only measure that addresses legalizing cannabis in Hawaii. Several other bills are also progressing through the Hawaiian legislature this session. House Bill 237 would establish a legal cannabis framework. It would also allow out-of-state patients to have the same privileges and rights as Hawaiians under Hawaii’s medical cannabis laws. House Bill 283 seeks to prevent employers from discriminating against potential job candidates and current employees for medicinal cannabis use if they are registered medical marijuana cardholders. However, neither piece of legislation has been able to pass House hearings.
The failure of these two measures to pass House hearings speaks to the potential problems SB 669 may have on its way to the governor’s desk. After passing the Hawaiian Senate, the bill moves to the House of Representatives. The House is the chamber where the bill may face its harshest challenge. In 2021, cannabis reform passed the Senate but stalled in a House committee. Despite hope that this bill would pass because it contained social equity provisions, it never made it to the House floor for a full vote.
Previous Hawaii Governor Dave Ige (D) resisted recreational cannabis legislation, acknowledging that it would contradict federal law. Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I illegal substance. However, current Governor Josh Green (D) claims he supports legalizing cannabis in the state. Gov. Green also mentions he has ideas about where cannabis tax revenue could go to help improve the state. It is unclear whether this changing of the guard may influence more House members to support cannabis legalization efforts. However, advocates are hopeful that an energized new administration may be the key to finally passing meaningful cannabis reform legislation in Hawaii.
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