The effort to pass a marijuana legalization bill in Hawaii this year ended on Tuesday afternoon. In a statement, Rep. Kyle Yamashita (D), who chairs the House Finance Committee announced that his panel would not hear the legalization measure, SB 3335, ahead of a legislative deadline this week.

The decision effectively kills bill, which had already passed the full Senate and several House committees this session before only barely advancing in an initial House floor vote earlier this month.

“The path to legalizing adult-use cannabis has been a deeply divisive issue,” Yamashita said. “Due to numerous concerns regarding the implementation of the bill, the House has decided against further deliberation in the House Finance Committee. This decision is strengthened by the prevailing ‘no’ votes from committee members expressed on the House floor.”

Democratic House Speaker Scott Saiki, meanwhile, pointed to “serious concerns by members of Hawai’i’s law enforcement.”

“This bill requires further consideration of the impact legislation will have on our children, economy, and overall well-being.”

As supporters and opponents have both pointed out, this past session has marked the furthest any legalization measure has made it through Hawaii’s legislature. But after only barely passing a House floor vote late last month, on a 25–23 vote, many also foresaw a challenge in the Finance Committee.

Nikos Leverenz, of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i and the Hawai’i Health and Harm Reduction Center, predicted in an email to Marijuana Moment earlier this week that it was “more likely than not” that the Finance Committee would decline to take up the bill.

“It’s unfortunate to see the demise of adult-use cannabis this year given the efforts of the Attorney General’s office and the support of Governor Josh Green, two-thirds of the state senate, and 58% of Hawaii residents,” Leverenz wrote. “What we’ve seen this year from the criminal legal lobby and its legislative and evangelical allies is a miserable public display of fear-mongering, misrepresentation, and browbeating. We also saw the continued denial of the serious harms inflicted by ongoing cannabis prohibition, including the criminalization of children.”

The more-than-300-page bill was formally introduced in both chambers in January and is based on a legalization plan written by state Attorney General Anne Lopez (D), who was appointed in December 2022 by Gov. Josh Green (D), a supporter of legalization. It would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of cannabis concentrates.

The bill’s sponsor in the House, Rep. David Tarnas (D), has already committed to bringing a revised bill next session.

“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,” he told Marijuana Moment in an email Tuesday evening. “I will be collecting factual information about public safety and public health concerns, including the assertion of some opponents that legalization would actually result in an increase in cannabis use by youth as well as an increase in fatal car crashes attributable to cannabis use.”

As for those claims, Tarnas continued, “I think the evidence shows that there is no evidence of any increase in use of cannabis by youth in legalization states, but I will gather the data and present it next session. Similarly, I think the evidence from legalization states shows that there has not been any demonstrable increase in car crashes by drivers that is attributable solely to cannabis use. But, I will gather the data on this topic and present it next session.”

Tarnas added that he would look to other jurisdictions “to determine the most effective ways to make sure a cannabis legalization program will deter the unregulated market for cannabis by attracting producers and consumers to the regulated cannabis market.”

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

The advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project acknowledged the setback but also pledged not to give up on the reform.

“The Hawai’i Legislature’s failure to listen to voters will condemn hundreds of Hawai’i residents to traumatic police encounters and leave tens of millions of tax revenue on the table,” said Karen O’Keefe, the group’s director of state policies. “While this is a setback, this was also the furthest legalization has ever got in Hawai’i. Advocates are not giving up until we get legalization past the finish line.”

In recent weeks, legislative leaders have flagged that the Finance Committee could be a difficult hurdle to clear, and some of those who spoke out against the proposal on the chamber floor last week included members of that committee. Rep. Gene Ward (R), for one, warned that if the bill becomes law, “homelessness is going to be catalyzed by the increase in use of marijuana.”

Ward also noted in his floor comments that AG Lopez’s office itself has said that she does not support the reform.

“For some reason, some people think that the black market is going to go away because of what we’ve got here,” he said. “We have to remember that the AG said that this is not something that she supports.”

Ward also said that among unhoused people in Hawaii, “the most accessible thing to them is marijuana, even though it’s the cheap wine and the booze that they’re doing also.”

The attitude reflects warnings that law enforcement and some other state agencies have made repeatedly in testimony about the bill.

Some Democratic leaders also vocally opposed the reform. Democratic Majority Whip Rep. Scot Matayoshi, for instance, said before last month’s House floor vote that he didn’t think colleagues “should vote with reservations or vote in favor of this bill just to see it move along.”

“We can’t be voting on a bill that has some good parts but also has an incredible harm to our society in the form of legalizing recreational marijuana,” he said.

Matayoshi had previously warned that the Finance Committee could be an obstacle for the bill, telling a reporter earlier this month that the committee “is dealing with a lot of different challenges this year” and that “the budget is very underwater, very in the red.”

In Tarnas’s earlier comments on the House floor, he said legalization “will actually have significant public safety and public health benefits for our community.”

“It will better protect youth from drug use through education and investment in youth programs. It will reduce drug violence. It will promote public safety by allowing people to buy from legitimate businesses not on the illegal market,” he said. “It will ensure that the cannabis products purchased are safe, free from contaminants like fungus and mold or even worse, methamphetamine and fentanyl. It will allow us to tax and regulate cannabis products, which currently provide no tax or revenue to the state.”

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The proposal saw a number of amendments since it was first introduced. A change around labor peace agreements for cannabis businesses, for example, was made in committee last month.

Previously, two panels at a joint hearing made a number of amendments that eased rules and penalties that many advocates had called too harsh.

Here are the key provisions of the bill, SB 3335:

The proposal would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and up to five grams of concentrates as of January 1, 2026.
Home cultivation would be legal, with adults allowed to grow up to six plants and keep as much as 10 ounces of resulting marijuana.
The measures would create the Hawaii Hemp and Cannabis Authority to license and regulate adult-use cannabis businesses and the state’s hemp industry.
That body would be overseen by an appointed Cannabis Control Board, led by an executive director who would need to have experience in public health or cannabis regulation.
Cultivators, processors, medical dispensaries, adult-use retailers, craft dispensaries and independent testing laboratories would be licensed under the plan, with regulators able to adopt rules around special events, social consumption and other special use cases.
Adult-use cannabis products would be taxed at 14 percent, while medical cannabis would be subject to a 4 percent tax. Industrial hemp would continue to fall under the state’s general sales tax.
Tax revenue from marijuana sales would be divided between a law enforcement-focused fund and another that would promote “cannabis social equity, public health and education, and public safety.”
A recent amendment blanked out all appropriations values in the legislation, an effort to force lawmakers to renegotiate those numbers.
People with past felony convictions for cannabis would be eligible to be licensed or work in the legal cannabis industry after 10 years from the end of their incarceration, parole or supervised release.
The mere use of cannabis would not be grounds for revoking parental custody, preventing parole or probation or withholding state benefits or entitlements.
Driving under the influence of cannabis would remain illegal, with the bill setting a legal limit of 10 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.
The bill would provide state-level tax relief for licensed marijuana businesses, allowing them to take deductions that they’re barred from doing at the federal level under Internal Revenue Service code 280E.
People with felony convictions on their criminal records could not enter the industry as a licensee or employee until 10 years after their sentences are complete.
The possession, manufacture and sale of cannabis paraphernalia would be legal among adults.
The bill also would create new criminal penalties for people under 21 found in possession of marijuana, who could face up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for possession of up to three grams.
The bill currently includes an effective date of December 31, 2050 “to encourage further discussion.”

As for expungements around past marijuana offenses, last month a Senate panel gutted a House-passed bill that initially would have directed the state to automatically expunge tens of thousands of arrest and conviction records for low-level marijuana possession. The amended bill instead limits the relief to a one-county pilot program covering less than 15 percent of state residents.

A House committee also advanced separate legislation last week that would expand the state’s current decriminalization of cannabis by increasing amounts of the substance for which people would not face the threat of jail time and reducing certain financial penalties. That measure, SB 2487, is expected to be taken up soon on the House floor.

Last year the Senate passed a separate legalization bill that later stalled the House, but advocates are hopeful this year’s proposal could get further. Gov. Green said last month that legalization is a “big social issue that remains” to be addressed in the state, signaling that he’d likely sign a bill to end cannabis prohibition if lawmakers send him one.

Democrats in control of Hawaii’s Senate said in January that cannabis legalization is one of their top priorities this legislative session, framing the reform as a means to boost the state’s economy.

Hawaii residents themselves seem to support the change. A recent Hawai’i Perspectives survey by the Pacific Resource Partnership found 58 percent support for legalization.

In November, the AG’s office defended an earlier version of the legislation it put forward earlier that month after Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm said law enforcement were firmly against legalizing marijuana. David Day, a special assistant with the attorney general’s office, said at the time that the legalization measure deliberately took into account law enforcement perspectives.

Advocates previously struggled under former Democratic Gov. Dave Ige, who resisted legalization in part because he said he was reluctant to pass something that conflicts with federal law. But since Green took office, activists have felt more emboldened. The current governor said in 2022 that he’d sign a bill to legalize cannabis for adults and already had ideas about how tax revenue could be utilized.

Last April, Hawaii’s legislature also approved a resolution calling on the governor to create a clemency program for people with prior marijuana convictions on their records.

As for other drug policy matters, lawmakers in February advanced a bill that would provide certain legal protections to patients engaging in psilocybin-assisted therapy with a medical professional’s approval. The measure would not legalize psilocybin itself but would instead create an affirmative legal defense for psilocybin use and possession in the case of doctor-approved use under the guidance of a trained facilitator.

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“}]] The effort to pass a marijuana legalization bill in Hawaii this year ended on Tuesday afternoon. In a statement, Rep. Kyle Yamashita (D), who chairs the House Finance Committee announced that his panel would not hear the legalization measure, SB 3335, ahead of a legislative deadline this week. The decision effectively kills bill, which had  Read More