The late comedian Rap Reiplinger once had a skit entitled “The Helicopter” where two locals commandeer a rotary-wing in search of weed.

Inadvertently reading a map upside down, they navigate to the non-existent location of “Ikikiaw” — Waikiki, spelled backwards — and find orchids, which they initially mistake as weed, but still decide to smoke the flowers anyway.

Much like Rap’s helicopter pilots, there has long been confusion in the public between marijuana and hemp, particularly with the recent emergence of hemp-derived cannabidiol products.

To address rising concerns and discuss potential regulation of recreational cannabis and CBD in Hawaii, the Legislature has scheduled a joint Senate and House Health Committee information briefing for later this month.

In the hearing notice’s description, the joint committees included a statement that noted Hawaii is faced with potential public health risks arising from consumption of unregulated sales of products reportedly containing CBD.

Hand holding pipette with CBD oil on wooden table with copy space
Lawmakers have scheduled a hearing to talk about CBD oil and its sale in Hawaii. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Though cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational and medical marijuana. “Hawaiʻi can gain valuable insight by analyzing the experience of other jurisdictions, including cost-benefit analyses to determine both the social and economic costs of such changes,” the joint statement said.

The informational briefing, which features a number of health policy specialists from the National Conference of State Legislatures, is schedule for Sept. 12 at the State Capitol and is open to the public, but no testimony will be accepted.

In short, recreational/medical marijuana is similar to hemp in that they both come from strains of the Cannabis sativa plant, but the key difference between the two has to do with their use and the presence of psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

CBD is created from hemp as an extract. According to the World Health Organization, unlike the THC found in marijuana, hemp-derived “CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential” and, in the case of the pure CBD medication Epidiolex, has even been demonstrated as “an effective treatment of epilepsy” in clinical trials.

Harvard Health’s official blog adds that “CBD is commonly used to address anxiety, and … CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.” Nonetheless, CBD may also have side effects which include blood thinning, nausea, fatigue, or irritability.

As CBD products proliferate on the shelves of Hawaii stores, there are worries among local policymakers that there may be potential health risks associated with their use. There is disagreement over whether CBD is safe or not, and the FDA insists that because CBD is the active ingredient in Epidiolex, it cannot be put into food, beverages and cosmetics, sold as a drug without a prescription, or marketed as a “dietary supplement.”

Among a growing number of liberty advocates, the battle over marijuana use represents not so much freedom to use “drugs” but a key beachhead in rolling back big government.

Rep. John Mizuno, chair of the House Health Committee, said by phone that he acknowledged “CBDs are available everywhere,” but cautioned, “Hemp derived CBDs may contain environmental toxins, such as metals, pesticides, radioactive materials.”

“We need to ensure these products are tested for impurities before we allow CBDs to be sold; this is a consumer protection issue,” Mizuno says. “The general public seems to feel its safe to use CBDs, but some people may have an adverse reaction to CBDs. Moreover, if a patient is already on prescription medications, mixing CBDs could lead to an adverse reaction.”

As someone who strongly supports the full legalization of marijuana to boost Hawaii’s economy, I also asked Mizuno frankly if there was any possibility of making that a reality in the upcoming 2020 session.

“I don’t think our state is ready to allow for recreational use,” he responded. “I think it would be prudent to first ensure our medical cannabis dispensaries are doing fine, before we move toward recreational use.”

Mizuno would like to study other states’ experiences, Colorado being one of them, to see what concerns, problems and issues have come up, before moving forward on recreational marijuana in Hawaii.

Among a growing number of liberty advocates, the battle over marijuana use represents not so much freedom to use “drugs” but a key beachhead in rolling back big government. As an example, Portugal, which scaled down its drug laws in 2001 by imposing administrative rather than criminal penalties for possession of drugs, has since seen noticeable improvements in drug-related crimes and deaths.

Hawaii policymakers are certainly justified in both wanting to regulate CBD and cautiously moving forward on recreational marijuana, but this should not hamper a potentially profitable and useful new market. There are few profitable industries in the post-plantation, post-Cold War Hawaii of the 21st century, but the potential of hemp and cannabis products to give Hawaii an economic boost is one that should not be overlooked.

The upcoming information briefing will likely be a great opportunity for locals to get a crystal ball into the future of cannabis policy. I say show up, talk to legislators on the side, and tell them Hawaii is ready for full legalization.

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