About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Hawaii already faces many serious problems including a housing crisis and the aftermath of the Maui fires. Why add to the problems?

If adults want to smoke marijuana, thatʻs fine with me.

But what I find confounding is the current push to legalize weed in Hawaii when it is already easily obtainable and nobody is hauled off to jail for having small amounts in a personal stash.

In 2019, Hawaii decriminalized marijuana possession, allowing people 3 grams of weed or about six joints. To exceed that amount is a civil rather than a criminal violation meaning a citation and a fine, no jail time.

Also, Hawaii was the one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana and adults can purchase calming, hemp-based CBD oils without a prescription as long as they contain less than 0.3% THC, a psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

In an email to me, Gov. Josh Green wrote of the ready availability of marijuana: “It is unfortunately, fairly easy to obtain and our Hawai‘i laws have already decriminalized it.”

So what’s the need for Hawaii to face the daunting problems that have burdened many of the 24 states that have legalized adult-use marijuana?

I am bothered by some of the same concerns listed in the Department of the Attorney Generalʻs report warning the Legislature what to expect if it legalizes cannabis.

“No effort to legalize adult-use cannabis, however carefully planned and well intentioned will be without problems and serious risks to public safety and public health,” the report cautions.

The formal report was sent to legislative leaders along with a 315-page draft bill that includes guardrails on how to protect public safety and public heath as well as a template for crafting a legally enforceable cannabis legalization measure. Thatʻs if they want to. The Attorney General’s Office hopes they wonʻt.

The Hawaii Cannabis Expo opens Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall in Honolulu. More than cannabis, vendors showed off other naturally occurring medicines and merchandise. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2024)
Medical marijuana is legal in Hawaii as shown here during the cannabis expo at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall earlier this month in Honolulu. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2024)

Hawaii is already sinking under major problems — chief among them are residents leaving the state in droves, the painful aftermath of the fire that destroyed most of Lahaina, a lack of reasonably priced housing, crime, drugs and homelessness.

I am among others who wonder why there’s impetus this year to take on the additional problems that will come if the state legalizes pot.

“The bottom line is this is a risk we just can’t take. We have big issues here to solve and this would make those big issues almost impossible to solve,” former Gov. Linda Lingle said last week at a press conference. She was joined by county police chiefs, prosecutors, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and health advocates all speaking against making pot legal.

Former Gov. Linda Lingle opposes a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2024)

Two Senate committees will hear a bill Tuesday on legalizing adult-use cannabis.

Proponents at the hearing will tout the millions of dollars in revenue Hawaii will get when it regulates and taxes weed. They will downplay the harm to children and other social ills besetting states that legalized cannabis.

Senators are expected to OK a bill legalizing pot this session, but approval in the state House is less certain.

Here are three salient reasons why I think state lawmakers should take a step back: 

Increased Danger To Young People

Legalizing marijuana will put more pot out in the community, making it easier for young people to get their hands on it.

The pot sold today can be more powerful and more addictive than the laid-back weed of the Woodstock generation. Reports have shown that cannabis is dangerous to developing brains and the mental health of young people — affecting their memory,  ability to concentrate and problem solve.

Although Green supports legalizing recreational marijuana, he is concerned about its effect on children.

“Our central nervous systems and brains develop well into our 20s. As a physician and father, I want to ensure that any proposal to legalize adult use of cannabis has safeguards in place to protect keiki,” the governor wrote in an email Sunday.

 Attorney General Anne Lopez said in a phone call Thursday that the danger to children is the main reason she personally opposes legalizing cannabis.

“I have spent my professional life with a focus on protecting the health and well-being of children. I am concerned that the cannabis today is stronger and more harmful to health that the marijuana of the 1960s and the dangers it poses to children and teenagers. If the Legislature legalizes it, it must have guardrails up to protect all the public not just children and teenagers,” she said.

Lopez said she was an occupational therapist for 13 years before she went to law school and during that time worked in a locked adolescent psychiatric and an acute psychiatric unit in an urban hospital. She was on the board of Parents and Children Together for approximately 12 years. Before she became AG, she was the CEO and general counsel for Hawaii Health Systems Corp., a network of public hospital systems.

The draft bill her department sent to offer legal guidance to lawmakers would make it a serious crime to sell cannabis to anyone under 21 and would direct an initial $5 million appropriation to launch a public education program to warn all people, but especially youth, about the risks of marijuana.

But Honolulu Prosecutor Steve Alm says teenagers pay scant attention to such warnings.

“That has never worked,” he said. “Alcohol, tobacco, vaping. Kids are going to do what they do, and if you say, ‘It’s legal and It’s safe,’ that’s going to cause a real problem.”

Black Market Sales Will Continue

Another key problem with legalizing pot is that will not end black market sales. In fact, the attorney general’s team found that every state it spoke with that had legalized pot was plagued by black market operations, attractive to organized crime. The illicit operators prospering by selling their untested and perhaps more dangerous products cheaper than legal vendors. After California legalized marijuana, arrests for illegal pot smuggling at Los Angeles increased 166%.

Despite the many safeguards it offered, the attorney general’s report cautioned it “will not be a panacea to eliminate illicit markets or the law enforcement concerns inherent in it.”

Hard To Prove Impairment

My third concern is Hawaiiʻs police departments currently have no way to test drivers they suspect are under the influence of drugs. DUI breathalyzer tests are only for alcohol impairment. Marijuana impairment can be tested only with urine or blood samples, but such tests do not always prove impairment. States where marijuana is legal have seen an increase in accidents and fatal crashes involving drivers with cannabis in their system.

The AG’s guidance to the Legislature lays out legal limits to driving under the influence of weed that should be in a bill. “But testing for cannabis impairment is inherently difficult due to the limits of current technology,” it adds.

It says if lawmakers legalize cannabis even with the safeguards it recommends to expect marijuana-impaired drivers will cause more vehicle collisions and deaths on the road as well as contribute to an increase in traffic fatalities.

Never mind cost. The draft bill proposes that the state set up a new bureaucracy called the Hawaii Cannabis Authority at an initial cost of $38 million to enable the authorty to regulate all forms of marijuana under one umbrella including recreational marijuana, medical marijuana and hemp.

In my view, it is never a good time to legalize pot, but of all times this is the worst to take on another controversial issue when the state is already staggering under so many seemingly unsolvable problems.

Read the Attorney General Office’s report here:

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Latest Comments (0)

Must Hawaii continue its costly criminalization of cannabis, the short answer is no.From the state AG and other misinformed advocates of living in the past (as in Reefer Madness) assumptions advocating socially unjust system of laws especially targeting cannabis, while justifying their positions by spouting obsolete and false assumptions supporting a 1950's draconian view of cannabis and justifying across the board unjust laws. It's time Hawaii to join the 21st century and over half the Country and Canada who have all successfully legalized and embraced cannabis for its therapeutic and recreational benefits. It's hypocritical and socially costly to legally enable alcohol and tobacco addiction which represent greater social harm with little benefit, while continuing to criminalize cannabis.

BeyondKona · 6 hours ago

Hope comments are still open here because I must add my support for this story and add that if Hawai'i could ever get back to it's historic roots of a cup or 2 of 'Awa beverage at the end of a work day and just before dinner it would be a far better, healthier, traditional alternative for relaxation and excellent REM sleep.Not exactly comparing the two as 'awa is on a different level by far than marijuana. 'Awa is poorly understood by many but there is huge scientific studies supporting the plant for its ability to prevent many forms of cancer and as an overall healthy alternative. Moderate responsible use.

Kahua · 3 days ago

Sadly the writer is mistaken. " Some 20% of all drug arrests in the State are related to marijuana." -NORML

Da329Guys · 1 week ago

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