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A dozen measures relating to adult use of marijuana were introduced at the beginning of the Hawaii Legislature, with several lawmakers proclaiming that 2019 could finally be the year for such a measure to pass.
Update: As of Monday afternoon, however, just one bill has moved out of its first committee while a second awaits a vote Wednesday. All but one of the “rec pot” and related measures face deadlines this month to remain alive this session. At least two bills have already been shelved.
We urge legislators to keep discussion of the two bills that remain alive by passing them out of their necessary committees and giving them full floor votes in the House and Senate.
Voters deserve to know where lawmakers and constituents stand on this critical issue, one that has been brought up many times before in legislatures past only to die before all parties have had the opportunity to weigh in.
Even as Hawaii continues to move haltingly on permitting adult use of recreational cannabis, many other states have moved far ahead. Ten states and the District of Columbia now have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use.
Last year alone, 21 states considered bills that would legalize adult-use marijuana, including Hawaii. Three other states proposed constitutional initiatives for voter approval, although none passed. (Hawaii does not allow citizen initiative at the state level.)
States are moving forward on recreational cannabis for several reasons, in part because it can generate revenue for hungry state coffers. It is dawning on more and more people that it makes little sense to tax and regulate nicotine and alcohol and not do the same for another widely consumed drug — one that has documented medical benefits. No wonder that, as of January, 33 states including Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, have approved comprehensive public medical marijuana programs.
Recognition of changing times and social mores is not confined to the state level.
On Friday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) introduced legislation that would legalize marijuana nationally. The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act would “responsibly legalize, tax and regulate marijuana at the federal level,” according to the Senate Finance Committee.
The Hill reports that the proposed act is one of three bills in a broader legislative package that aims to “preserve the integrity of state marijuana laws and provide a path for responsible federal legalization and regulation of the marijuana industry.”
Wyden’s bill will likely not be helped by being designated S. 420, a wink-wink at pakalolo culture where “420” is associated with marijuana use.
In fact, marijuana is serious business. The text of the state Senate bill notes, “Colorado realized state tax revenue of approximately $18,900,000 during the first half of 2014, and this revenue is expected to increase as sales of retail marijuana increase.”
It’s not just the jobs and taxes rec pot can produce. It can help empty our jails and prisons of nonviolent offenders.
In its testimony in favor of recreational cannabis, the Democratic Party of Hawaii cited a 2013 study from the ACLU indicating that “marijuana criminalization and aggressive enforcement has been an enormous waste of money and has harmed individuals, communities, and the entire country.”
That harm has fallen far more on minorities than whites.
There are legitimate concerns should Hawaii allow adults to possess and use pot.
The state Department of Transportation, for example, has warned about potential increases in motor vehicle injuries. The Attorney General’s office has reminded lawmakers that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, something that Gov. David Ige has also said when he has expressed his opposition. Ige also worries about laws that prohibit transporting marijuana between islands.
And marijuana has only grown in potency and its impact on physical and mental health has not been thoroughly studied.
But then, it is illegal. And people are smoking and selling it anyway.
This is a critical week for recreational cannabis in Hawaii.
House Speaker Scott Saiki
House Judiciary Chair Chris Lee
Senate President Ron Kouchi
Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health Chair Roz Baker
Senate Bill 686 needs to be referred to that chamber’s health committee in order to stay viable. The legislation would legalize recreational pot in certain amounts, license stores that sell it and subject them to excise and income taxes.
Update: But the health committee’s chair, Sen. Roz Baker, has said publicly she is not interested in recreational pot. On Monday, an amended version of SB 686 was re-referred to a joint hearing by Baker’s Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health Committee and Ways and Means — a tough legislative hurdle to clear with time running out.
Meantime,House Bill 1383 needs to clear the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday afternoon. Thus far, it faces no additional House committee clearance and could in theory head to the full House for a vote. Should that happen, it crosses over to the Senate for its consideration.
HB 1383 would decriminalize some offenses related to pot and set up a fee schedule for violations. Legal charges could be dismissed and criminal records expunged for acts based solely on pot crimes. The legislation also sets up a working group to study cannabis and report back to the Leg.
We argue that the time for studies is over. Twelve of the 25 state senators (including the majority leader and judiciary chair) have signed onto SB 686 while 20 of the 51 state representatives (including the speaker and the judiciary chair) signed onto HB 1383. They get it.
Let’s advance these two bills, craft a compromise that contains the best of each and send it to the full House and Senate where it should, finally, be approved. By that time maybe the governor will get it, too.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair and Jessica Terrell. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.