Should Hawaii fully legalize marijuana for recreational use?

An answer to that question is not definitive, as 43% of registered voters said yes in our recent poll while 42% said no.

Given that the Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now poll has a plus or minus margin of 2.5 percentage points, the survey results translate into a tie. Another 10% said it didn’t matter to them either way.

But support for pakalolo for adult use appears on the rise. In December 2017, 55% of respondents said they opposed legalizing pot while 36% supported it.

Matthew Fitch, managing partner of MRG Research, which conducted the poll, compared the support to the evolution of views on civil unions and gay marriage.

“Society’s views are changing but you are also at a tipping point on what the correct response is,” he said. “With those previous issues, it seemed like things flipped overnight. In fact, what really happened is people just became more comfortable expressing what they already felt.”

Political ideology is a factor when it comes to cannabis: Lots of liberals and progressives like weed, but Republicans and conservatives are less enthused.

More telling, however, is age and ethnicity.

“Younger, whiter and more male voters are in favor of legalization,” said Fitch. “Income and education are not factors.”

One other major distinction: People on the neighbor islands favor legalization far more than people on Oahu.

Asked for comment, Fitch paused and then asked this, perhaps rhetorically: “Have you ever been to the North Shore of Kauai?”

National Trend

Civil Beat/HNN sampled 1,506 registered voters statewide on the marijuana question. We were curious to see how attitudes might be changing given the trend nationwide.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 states, two territories and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of pot for adult recreational use.

On April 7, NCSL reports, Virginia’s legislature accepted the governor’s recommended amendments for “a significantly speedier implementation window” for a bill that would legalize recreational cannabis use in that state and establish a regulated commercial market.

New York also legalized cannabis this year, while New Mexico’s legislature introduced its Cannabis Regulation Act in a special session. That bill has since been signed into law by New Mexico’s governor.

Hawaii has begun to shift toward the green bud as well, but haltingly. It decriminalized up to 3 grams of pakalolo under a 2019 law that took effect last year, replacing criminal penalties with a $130 fine.

However, a bill that would have increased that amount to 1 ounce and another that proposed legalizing the personal use, possession and sale of cannabis, both died this past legislative session.

Even if the measures were passed, Gov. David Ige is on record as opposing the relaxation of pot laws, as ganja remains a Schedule I drug on the federal registry akin to heroin, LSD and peyote.

‘Gateway Drug’

Verna Hanashiro, 77, of Kaneohe, does not want pot legalized.

“It’s a gateway drug to other drugs and I just don’t think it’s a good thing to do,” she said.

Medical marijuana is a different matter, however.

“It’s OK to use under the prescription of a doctor and supervision and control,” said Hanashiro, a retired nurse practitioner with a Ph.D. in nursing who taught at the University of Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific University.

Dorothy Case of Kona, a former educator, has a different take.

“I am 77 years old and we were the hippie generation,” she said by way of explanation. “I also lived for two years in Switzerland where they had hashish.”

For Case, who has glaucoma but found it difficult to get a prescription for medical pot on the Big Island, marijuana helps her to relax and to sleep — her husband, too.

“Our children live in Portland, Oregon, and we have visited Colorado and California, and we bought marijuana at every place — the edibles. It’s just not possible for us to smoke. It’s too harsh on our lungs.”

One of Case’s sons is an emergency room physician, and he has told his mother that it is not possible to die from an overdose of pot.

And Case’s husband is involved with the Hawaii Farmers Union United, which represents and advocates for farmers and ranchers on all islands.

“Hawaii has the perfect climate for growing marijuana, and I think it would be a wonderful industry and another crop that we could be growing,” she said.

Read the full results of the Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now poll here:

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