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Legalization bill moves on to the next committee hearing in Hawaii state legislature

By Meg Ellis
Feb 09, 2019

A bill that would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older is making the rounds in the Hawaii state legislature.

The Hawaii Senate Committee on the Judiciary unanimously approved SB 686 on February 7, moving the bill on to the next step in the legislative process.

Carl Berquist, Executive Director of the advocacy group Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii is excited about the bill’s potential progress but remains cautiously optimistic about its chances of survival. In an interview with Honolulu KHON2, Bergquist wanted to remind pot-politicos that there is still a long road ahead.

“While just the first step in the legislative process, this historic development to move Hawai’i’ away from criminalizing to taxing-and-regulating adult-use cannabis should not be underestimated,” Bergquist said.

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While the bill still needs to survive a few more rounds of committee hearings, this bill, as well as the hearing, is a large legislative leap for the Aloha State. According to the DPFH, Hawaii has not held a cannabis legalization hearing in the last five years.

Carl Bergquist on KHON2

What would Hawaii’s legalization bill do if it is passed?

SB 686, as it is currently written, mimics other marijuana legalization laws in its language. The bill, if passed, would allow adults 21 and older to possess, cultivate, and consume marijuana. Government-licensed facilities could also manufacture, test, and sell cannabis.

Cannabis grown for research or commercial use is subject to a 15 percent surcharge as well as a state excise tax.

Hawaii’s Department of Health currently oversees the state’s medical marijuana program. If the prohibition on marijuana is lifted, the DOH would assume responsibility for regulating retail sales. The bill originally called for the Hawaii Department of Taxation to administer the recreational sales tax.

While the DPFH has recommended including restorative justice elements into the bill as other states have done, the bill as it currently stands does not address the expungement of criminal records for cannabis possession; however, as the bill goes through the committee process, amendments may be added to the bill addressing restorative justice.

“Going forward, we will work diligently to ensure that Hawai’i’ legalization is infused with the social justice ethos of California’s adult use cannabis law and the bills being discussed currently in other state legislatures like New Jersey and New York.

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“This means helping to clear cannabis convictions off people’s records and working so that the communities, particularly the Native Hawaiian, who have been disproportionately impacted by the unjust, current law are not excluded from a future adult use industry,” Bergquist told KHON2.

SB686 moves forward in Hawai'i

What are the odds of this bill passing?

Legislative advocates for legalization are optimistic about the bill’s chances. The Hawaii state legislature currently boasts a Democrat-majority, with the Senate Majority Leader Kalani English stating that the Aloha State has reached a “tipping point” on the issue.

Unfortunately for pot-politicos, the governor of Hawaii, Democrat David Ige, has vetoed cannabis related legislation in the past. While Hawaii does allow medical cannabis dispensaries to operate, it is unclear as to whether the governor will support the end of marijuana prohibition.

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If the bill does pass, as written, retail sales could begin February 2021 in the Aloha State.

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