Hawaii Senate Committee Approves Bill to Legalize Marijuana

Today a Hawaii Senate committee gave approval to legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana.

Senate Bill 3335 would legalize marijuana for everyone 21 and older, while establishing the Hawaii Cannabis Authority and Cannabis Control Board within the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs in order to oversee a legal marijuana market. Today, the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services voted unanimously to pass the bill following a joint public hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the measure later today, which would move the measure towards a vote of the full Senate.

During today’s public hearing that preceded the vote, dozens spoke on the bill. John Gonaki, a representative for Hawaii’s Office of the Public Defender, spoke in favor.

“The marijuana market already exists. This market, however, remains underground and those involved in it largely remain unaccountable”, they said. “Unregulated sellers do not pay taxes, they do not check identification to ensure that buyers are 21 years or older, they do not test the purity of their products. Moreover any disputes that arises in the illicit market are not adjudicated int he courts of law.”

Jordan Lowe, Director for the Department of Law Enforcement, spoke in opposition to the law, saying it would be in violation of the federal Gun Control Act without providing comments.

A representative for the Department of Health also spoke against the bill, saying that “legalizing adult use of cannabis should be expected to have a negative impact on the health of the public.”

Tai Cheng, Chairmen of the Hawaii Cannabis Industry Association, spoke in favor of the measure, noting that he has provided to the committee “data to show that in October of last year 84% of Hawaii residents support the legalization of cannabis in some form. And we also have some financial data and modelling to show that if we were to start sales could reach $35 million in tax revenue in the first two years.”

Among the speakers were multiple parents and grandparents concerned about the impact on youth and families and worried about a potential proliferation of marijuana stores. Others spoke on the benefits of legalizing including an increase in tax revenue.

Hawaii’s Senate passed a similar bill to legalize marijuana in March of last year by a vote of 22 to 3; the measure did not receive a vote by the House of Representatives before the end of the legislative session.

The passage of the bill in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee comes a day after a House committee voted to pass a bill to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.

According to polling released last year, 52% of adults in Hawaii in support of legalizing marijuana, with just 31% opposed.

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