A Hawaii House lawmaker says a marijuana legalization bill that passed the Senate last week represents an “incredible compromise” that contains the key provisions needed to advance in her chamber.
At a virtual town hall event hosted by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) on Monday, Rep. Jeanne Kapela (D) talked about next steps for SB 669, which cleared the Senate with amendments ahead of a crossover deadline.
Kapela, who sponsored a separate legalization measure that did not advance in the House by that deadline, described the Senate-passed bill as a “really good starting point for us,” especially because the legislation was amended to incorporate social equity and expungements language that were central to her own proposal.
“It shows that we can all work together to come up with a bill that really meets the needs, I think, of medical patients, but it also protects small cannabis farms and, hopefully, the people that will potentially be able to join into a robust legalization system,” she said.
Kapela also encouraged supporters to contact their state representatives with “clear and concise” evidence-based messages expressing their desire to see the bill move.
That may prove critical given recent remarks by House Speaker Scott Saiki (D), who said that instead of moving the bill quickly he intends to see the issue workshopped over the summer so that lawmakers can develop a “comprehensive” reform proposal that addresses outstanding questions, “including the federal restrictions and the law enforcement concerns.”
Kapela, for her part, said that “as legislators we have a responsibility to enact systemic solutions that promote social justice.”
“Any bill that’s going to be about recreational cannabis use has to have social equity at its heart,” she said. “Ending mass incarceration and establishing the biggest mass expungement program ever seen on our shores here in Hawaii is exactly the kind of systemic solutions that we should be pursuing, and I think that this bill takes a crack at that, and that’s really fantastic.”
But she also signaled that she’d be interested in potentially amending the bill further, saying “there’s always things that we can do to to make things better, and that’s a part of the legislative process.”
“At the end of the day, we’re not going to win this this battle by by throwing stones,” the lawmaker said. “We’re going to win this by really working together to create a program that is really going to uplift uplift Hawaii, and change the narrative around this around cannabis use for generations to come.”
MPP’s DeVaughn Ward, who hosted the town hall on Monday, said that advocates are “at a critical point in the legislative session, and it’s kind of do or die.”
Also participating in the town hall were Nikos Leverenz of the Drug Policy Forum on Hawaii, Frank Steifel of the Last Prisoner Project and Scott Greenwood of the ACLU of Hawaii.
The advocates discussed various areas where they would like to see the bill amended or that could be addressed by future legislation, including expanding equity opportunities in the industry for native Hawaiians, strengthening expungements provisions, increasing the amount of cannabis that is legal for adults to possess and adding employment and tenant protections for consumers, among others.
“This is the best opportunity that we have in this state to secure a personal-use legislation and decriminalization and simultaneously to do large-scale criminal justice reform, all in one package,” Greenwood said. “Is the current iteration of the bill, perfect? No, but it’s about 90 percent of the way there.”
Here are some of the main components of SB 669, as amended:
Adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and grow up to six plants, only three of which could be mature, for personal use. Adults could also gift marijuana between each other.
An independent Hawaii Cannabis Regulatory Authority would be established under the Department of Health to regulate the industry, as well as the existing medical marijuana program.
The market would initially launch through a pilot program whereby existing medical cannabis dispensaries would be able to obtain a dual license to serve both patients and adult consumers.
Marijuana products would be subject to a 10 percent tax, with revenue going to the state treasury. Cannabis businesses would also be able to deduct businesses expenses as part of the state income tax.
Under a substitute amendment that was adopted, a prior ban on cannabis vaping products was removed from the bill.
Language providing a pathway for expungements of certain prior marijuana convictions was added, much to the relief of activists who had criticized the omission of such provisions in the as-introduced version.
Civil penalties for unlicensed cannabis business activity were also added at the request of the state attorney general’s office. Also, lawmakers adopted a requested change to add a track-and-trace requirement for marijuana products.
To mitigate the risk of creating a monopolized industry, the bill as revised sets caps on the number of marijuana businesses that individual entities could own. There are also new limits on the size of licensed cultivation facilities.
Adults could not consume marijuana any place where tobacco use is prohibited in the state. Also, condominiums could restrict cannabis smoking in the same way that they’re able to do with tobacco.
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Legislators have worked to enact legalization in the Aloha State over several sessions, but while the reform was approved in the Senate in 2021, it stalled after failing to proceed past a House committee by a key deadline.
Advocates struggled under former Democratic governor, Dave Ige, who has resisted legalization, in part because he said he was reluctant to pass something that conflicts with federal law. That’s despite the fact that Hawaii has a medical marijuana system that allows people to grow and sell cannabis in contravention of broad federal prohibition.
But now that Gov. Josh Green (D) has been sworn in, activists are feeling emboldened. He said in November that he’d sign a bill to legalize cannabis for adults and already has ideas about how tax revenue from marijuana sales could be utilized.
Hawaii’s Senate and House also approved a series of psychedelics reform bills last week, primarily focused on promoting research to set the state up to potentially allow regulated access down the line.
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