Around this time last month, Hawaii lawmakers and advocates were preparing for a possible shift to an adult-use cannabis market after the Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that would legalize and regulate recreational cannabis. 

However, a key Hawaii House committee chair announced Tuesday that his panel would not hear the measure ahead of the legislative deadline next this week, effectively killing the bill for 2024.

Hawaii remains the oldest medical-only cannabis market in the U.S., as the state legalized medical cannabis back in 2000.

The Hawaiian Senate approved the bill, SB 3335, in a 19-6 vote on March 5 where it eventually hit the floor of a lower House chamber for consideration and narrowly advanced in a 25-23 vote last month. 

From there, the legislation headed to the Hawaii House Finance Committee for consideration where House Finance Committee Chair Rep. Kyle Yamashita (D) ultimately shared that his panel would decline to hold a hearing on the legislation.

He recognized that this was the furthest progression for adult-use cannabis legislation while calling the path to legalization a “deeply divisive issue” in a statement.

“Due to numerous concerns regarding the implementation of the bill, the House has decided against further deliberation in the House Finance Committee,” Yamashita said. “This decision is strengthened by the prevailing ‘no’ votes from committee members expressed on the House floor.”

Yamashita continues, citing the “abnormally fiscally challenging year” and that the committee needs to prioritize other expenses, like the recovery of local communities following last year’s wildfires in Lahaina and Upcountry Maui, as the full cost of implementing adult-use cannabis legalization “is unknown.”

“As lawmakers, it would be remiss of us not to allocate funding to safeguard critical government services, including education, infrastructure, roads, and other essential services for Hawaiʻi’s residents and kūpuna, especially during a period of fiscal uncertainty,” Yamashita’s statement concludes. “We recognize that now is not the opportune time for its implementation, as we navigate the challenges of managing the largest wildfire recovery efforts in Hawaiʻi’s history.”

The bill was primarily based upon Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez’s legalization plan released in November 2023 and would have allowed adults over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and five grams of concentrates while establishing a recreational cannabis sales framework.

The proposal would have enforced a 14% excise tax on recreational cannabis products and a 4% tax rate on the medical cannabis market. It also included home cultivation provisions and would have allowed residents to grow a maximum of six plants and possess up to 10 ounces of home-grown flower. 

Additionally, the original bill would have automatically expunged tens of thousands of arrest and conviction records for low-level cannabis convictions in the state, though that measure was later amended and limited to a single-county pilot program.

Advocates criticized the bill for its creation of additional law enforcement protocols. It included provisions to impose THC blood limits for drivers (despite the practical issues with THC metabolites remaining in the body days or even weeks after consumption) and would have created a cannabis enforcement unit within the Department of Law Enforcement, along with eight positions in a drug nuisance abatement unit in the AG’s office. 

The legislation also included a provision subjecting those found with loose cannabis, an open package for a cannabis product or a cannabis pipe in a car to up to 30 days in jail.

The issue of adult-use cannabis legalization has been divisive among lawmakers in the state House and Senate, but a majority of Hawaii residents appear to support the move according to a recent poll finding that 58% of adult residents in the state are in favor.

Even before the Hawaii House Finance Committee made its call, it was already evident that clearing the House was the main hurdle for the legislation. 

Gov. Josh Green has already indicated that he would likely sign an adult-use cannabis legalization bill should it hit his desk.

“I don’t think the sky would fall, honestly, if marijuana were legalized,” Green said recently in an appearance on Hawaii News Now. “I also have some thoughts that marijuana might blunt the effect, if you will, of people on these heavy drugs, these horrible drugs.”

It’s a bit of déjà vu for advocates, as the Senate also passed an adult-use cannabis legalization bill last year only for it to stall in the House.

House Speaker Scott K. Saiki (D) cited the “overwhelming testimony and serious concerns” from Hawaii’s law enforcement industry and that lawmakers need more time to consider the impact legalization will have on children, the economy and “overall well-being.”

However, the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. David Tarnas (D), is already looking ahead and plans to introduce a revised bill next session, according to Marijuana Moment.

“During the interim, I look forward to working with the Attorney General’s office to improve the language of the bill to address issues brought up during the House debate on this bill,” Tarnas told the publication in an email. 

He also cited his plans to collect factual information about those public safety and health concerns, including those suggesting that legalization could increase youth use and fatal car crashes (though even Tarnas cited the abundant research affirming that recreational cannabis legalization does not increase youth use or car crashes).

“We have lots of work to do on this important matter,” he said.

Advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project’s Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies, told Marijuana Moment that this move will “condemn hundreds of Hawai’i residents to traumatic police encounters” while missing the opportunity for millions in additional tax revenue.

“While this is a setback, this was also the furthest legalization has ever got in Hawai’i,” O’Keefe said. “Advocates are not giving up until we get legalization past the finish line.”

 [[{“value”:”There’s always next year, Hawaii.
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