Legalization and decriminalization expansion bills head to full Senate vote
Last update: March 5, 2021
In early March, two crucial cannabis bills advanced in the Hawaii Legislature. SB 767 would legalize cannabis and allow licensed businesses to cultivate, produce, and sell cannabis products. It would also allow adult home cultivation of up to three mature plants. Under the bill, the state Department of Health would craft rules around business licensing and retail sales by July 1, 2021. The Senate Ways & Means Committee passed SB 767 with amendments on a 7-0 vote. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for a full vote.
Meanwhile, SB 758, which would increase the decriminalized possession threshold from three grams to one ounce, advanced out of the Judiciary Committee on a 7-0 vote. It also now heads to the Senate floor for a full vote.
Both bills’ futures are uncertain as Gov. Ige appears to be generally unsupportive of legalization. However, House Speaker Scott Saiki (D) is likely to be supportive, as he introduced a legalization measure in 2013.
Gov. David Ige announced that he would let a legislature-passed bill to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis become law.
As of January 11, 2020, possession of three grams or less of marijuana is punishable by a $130 fine. Under previous law, possessing even a tiny amount of cannabis was punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, and a possible life-altering criminal record.
Unfortunately, three grams is the smallest amount of any state that has decriminalized (or legalized) simple possession of marijuana.
Still, removing criminal penalties and possible jail time for possession of a small amount of cannabis is an improvement.
Legislation to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adult-use did not advance in 2019
After its first marijuana legalization hearing in five years, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve a bill to allow adults 21 and older to possess, cultivate, and consume marijuana. Unfortunately, the bill did not get through a second panel before the deadline to advance in the legislative process, which killed the bill.
Voters in 15 states — including every state on the West Coast — have chosen to treat marijuana more like alcohol, by making it legal for adults 21 and older, taxing, and regulating it. (In D.C., adult-use possession and cultivation is legal, but there are no regulated sales.) These laws are working well, generating tax revenue, and creating good jobs without creating problems.
In 2019, legislation was reintroduced to expand Hawaii’s medical marijuana law to include opiate use disorder as a qualifying condition. This legislation carries over to the 2020 session. In 2018, the Hawaii Legislature approved similar legislation, but it was unfortunately vetoed by Gov. David Ige.
On July 10, 2018, Gov. Ige signed HB 2729 — a reciprocity bill — into law. The law allows patients who are registered in other medical marijuana states to use medical cannabis when they visit Hawaii. It also made other improvements, including allowing medical cannabis certifications to last as long as three years for certain conditions and allowing the retesting of cannabis.
One year earlier, in August 2017, Hawaii’s first dispensaries began serving patients, two years after the state’s dispensary law passed and 17 years after Hawaii became the first state to legislatively enact a medical marijuana law (rather than by ballot initiative).
Also that year, the legislature and governor strengthened and expanded Hawaii’s medical marijuana program by enacting HB 1488. The law added rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis to the list of qualifying conditions and allowed patients and caregivers to access testing facilities. Patients and caregivers are allowed to cultivate three additional plants of any maturity, for a total of 10 plants. A planned phasing out of caregivers’ ability to grow marijuana plants for patients was pushed back five years, to the end of 2023.
In addition, the Department of Health is now allowed to permit current licensees to open one additional dispensary — for a possible total of 24 statewide — and to cultivate more plants at their production sites.