Some legislators thought this year could be the year that Hawaii legalized recreational marijuana.

It probably won’t be.

Senate Bill 686 to legalize recreational use of pakalolo by people 21 and older isn’t likely to get a crucial joint hearing by two Senate committees by March 1, the deadline for bills to clear committee hearings before going before the full chamber.

“Probably too late,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Thursday afternoon.

But other marijuana bills are faring better, such as one that would decriminalize possession of marijuana and replace criminal penalties with fines, and others that expand Hawaii’s medical marijuana programs to include the sale of edibles.

Recreational marijuana isn’t likely to be legalized in Hawaii this year. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The recreational marijuana bill would allow licensed medical dispensaries to begin selling nonmedical cannabis products in 2020.

The bill would need to clear both Dela Cruz’s committee and Sen. Roz Baker’s Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee. She told Civil Beat she hasn’t read the bill yet, but “I’m not all that keen on recreational use. My focus is on getting the medical side of it.”

Still, any bill that dies can always be revived later in the session.

Early prospects were brighter for the SB 686, which was authored by Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English. It had the support of almost half the state Senate, including Dela Cruz.

In its original form, the bill only had to make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Karl Rhoads, and Ways and Means.

The bill cleared Rhoads’ committee unanimously Feb. 7, but with amendments that assigned responsibility for administering it to the Department of Health. That meant the bill would also have to go through Baker’s health committee, which turned out to be a significant roadblock.

Carl Bergquist, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, still hopes senators will at least give the bill another hearing.

“I’d like to think that a bill that has that many sponsors and so many key members of the Senate would at least get a (second) hearing,” Bergquist told Civil Beat. “I think having a hearing and airing out all the concerns could be the least this session.”

Several bills in past legislative sessions proposed recreational marijuana, but none was given much of a chance of passing, Bergquist said. SB 686 was the first recreational marijuana proposal to make it out of a committee hearing.

Sen. Roz Baker. Hawaii State Senate

Despite Baker’s reluctance to address the recreational bill now stuck in her committee, she introduced several other marijuana-related measures this session. They include Senate Bill 1524, which would protect qualified medical marijuana patients from discrimination in the workplace, and Senate Bill 541, which would allow patients to use transdermal devices such as skin patches to take their medication.

“It’s another means of getting the medication into the body without having to ingest something or smoke it,” Baker said. “The transdermal devices would be dosed in such a way in that it would be meted out at an appropriate time.”

She also introduced Senate Bill 527, which would have allowed medical marijuana dispensaries to also sell edibles.

Baker’s committee amended the bill to instead form a working group to study edibles in Hawaii after she heard of a news report from the mainland involving a boy who brought marijuana-infused gummy bears to school.

“We just felt like there were a lot more questions that deserved a lot more attention than we could give this session,” Baker said.

Contact Key Lawmakers

But that’s not the only bill that proposes legalizing medicinal edibles.

On the House side, House Bill 673 would allow dispensaries to begin selling edibles. It also proposes several other reforms, such as allowing dispensaries to transfer licenses as well as sale of products between dispensaries in the event one should run out of its inventory. It would also allow the dispensaries to transport the products to other islands.

Gov. David Ige has previously expressed concerns over interisland transportation of cannabis products.

HB 673, introduced by Rep. John Mizuno, would also allow physician assistants practicing under a licensed physician to recommend medicinal marijuana.

The bill passed its final committee hearing in the House on Thursday and now moves to a floor vote.

House Bill 1383 would remove any criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana and replace them with fines. The bill was deferred multiple times this month and is scheduled for a vote Tuesday in Rep. Chris Lee’s House Judiciary Committee.

The bill had a single referral, and if it passes would move on to a vote of the full House.

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