HAWAII: Lawmakers Unanimously Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill
On Thursday, February 7, 2019, the Hawaii Senate committee approved a bill that will legalize marijuana use by adults 21 and older in the state.
A week earlier, a hearing was held by the Committee on the Judiciary to listen to testimony from those who support and oppose cannabis reform. After that, the committee reconvened at its latest meeting and unanimously voted to move forward with the legislation.
The executive director of Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii (DPFH), Carl Bergquist, is very excited about the advancement of the bill because he believes it is the first time a legislative committee has moved a legalization bill. Even though it will not go to a full Senate vote immediately. It's likely to see one or two additional Senate panels prior to the chamber getting a chance to approve it.
As the bill is currently written, it would grant adults, 21 and older, the privilege to possess, consume, and cultivate marijuana. The government will also have to license manufacturers, testers, and sellers of cannabis subject to state excise tax and a 15% surcharge.
It was originally set in the bill that the Department of Taxation would be responsible for regulating retail sales but the committee announced the switch to it is the responsibility of the Department of Health, who currently oversees all the state's medical cannabis system.
The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii would like the bill to include restorative justice elements that would expunge criminal records for people with past marijuana convictions. It's not currently clear if this has been amended but any amendments should become public in the next week.
Advocates are very optimistic that this bill will pass the Democratic-controlled legislature. Last month when discussing the legalization of cannabis, Senate President Ron Kouchi (D), said it would be a legislative priority during this session and it was concurred by Senate Majority Leader Kalani English (D) who said the state is reaching a "tipping point" on the issue.
Governor David Ige (D) has not made it clear that he will sign the bill to legalize marijuana. In the past, he has talked about concerns of going against federal laws even though medical marijuana dispensaries are already operating in Hawaii violating federal law. He has also vetoed smaller cannabis reform bills in the past.
If it does make it all the way to be legalized, retail sales still wouldn't be able to begin until, at the earliest, February 2021.
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