Hawaii lags behind rest of West Coast on marijuana policy
Last update: November 12, 2018
While 23 states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana, Hawaii lags behind. Possessing even a tiny amount of cannabis is punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, and a possible life-altering criminal record.
In contrast, voters in nine states — including every state on the West Coast — have chosen to treat cannabis more like alcohol, by making it legal for adults 21 and older, taxing, and regulating it. (In a 10th state, Vermont, 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.
Unlike those states, Hawaii lacks a citizen initiative process, so only lawmakers can chart a more sensible course. During the 2017-2018 legislative session, the Hawaii Legislature considered — but failed to pass — multiple bills that would have decriminalized or legalized marijuana.
While the legislature continues to delay, voters want reform. A 2012 QMark Research poll found that 69% of Hawaii voters believe that jail time for marijuana offenses is inappropriate.
Medical cannabis program update
In 2018, the Hawaii Legislature approved SB 2707, which would have expanded Hawaii’s medical marijuana law to include opiate use disorder as a qualifying condition. Unfortunately, on July 10, 2018, Gov. David Ige vetoed the bill.
Also on July 10, 2018, Gov. Ige signed HB 2729 — a reciprocity bill — into law. The new law will allow patients who are registered in other medical marijuana states to use medical cannabis when they visit Hawaii. It also makes other improvements, including allowing medical cannabis certifications to last as long as three years for certain conditions and allows 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 H.B. 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.
Speak out: Please ask your state lawmakers to support reducing the penalty for simple possession of marijuana with a modest fine. Or, ask your legislators to support ending the costly and futile prohibition of marijuana.
Stay connected: To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Hawaii, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.