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Senate committees support recreational pot bill

LIHU‘E — A bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in Hawaii was approved by two state Senate committees earlier this week, and it’s now moving to the Senate floor for final consideration.

The Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection and the Committee on Ways and Means voted in support of Senate Bill 669 on March 2, which aims to legalize adult-use cannabis throughout the state.

“Today marks a significant step forward in the legalization of adult-use cannabis in Hawaii,” said Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole (D-District 24), who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection, in a statement.

“These amendments are reflective of the Senate’s commitment to ensuring a fair and well-regulated cannabis market that provides safe access to both adult consumers and existing medical patients.”

Medical cannabis has been legal in Hawai‘i since 2000, but SB 669 proposes that legalizing the personal and recreational use of marijuana is “a natural, logical, and reasonable outgrowth of the current science of cannabis and attitudes toward cannabis.”

If passed, the bill would allow adults ages 21 and older to possess, transport, transfer or process up to 30 grams of cannabis or cannabis products.

As written in the bill, SB 669 aims to establish regulations for cannabis cultivation and sales, decriminalize and regulate small amounts of cannabis for personal use, establish taxes for cannabis sales, and reduce illegal cannabis sales.

Keohokalole recommended several amendments to address issues raised in earlier hearings.

Those amendments included: civil penalties for unlicensed activity, adding language to allow employers to have policies that prohibit the use of cannabis by their employees, prohibiting all cannabis advertising within 1,000 feet of any youth-centered areas, and other restrictions to prevent monopoly control of cannabis dispensaries.

The bill also puts an emphasis on small businesses, with restrictions limiting cultivation facilities to no more than 5000 square feet of indoor or outdoor space.

Sen. Sharon Moriwaki (D-District 12) and Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D-District 1) were the only two senators to vote against the measure.

Moriwaki had concerns that the bill would cause increased rates of impaired driving and DUIs.

“I still see the medical use as being critical because they need it. But when you have personal use, how are you framing it so that it’s really restrictive because it’s going to be expanded once you start down that road,” said Moriwaki.

Keohokalole responded by saying there are employer restrictions and people would still be subject to prosecution for driving under the influence of cannabis.

Keohokalole also addressed concerns
about federal laws prohibiting cannabis.

“There’s nothing we can write into state law that would prohibit the federal government from taking action as necessary,” he said.

He noted the bill was initially written to comply with the framework of the Department of Justice’s 2013 Cole Memorandum, which provided guidance for federal prosecutors to avoid interfering with state laws that legalize cannabis.

“(The memo) essentially requires strict regulation and prevention of diversion to youth,” said Keohokalole.

Even though the bill has received support in the Senate, Keohokalole indicated it could face some challenges from the state House and Gov. Josh Green.

“If legalization of adult-use cannabis is something that is supported by the governor, we hope his administration, which has thus far opposed every proposal to legalize adult-use cannabis, will work with us to bring this to fruition,” said Keohokalole.


Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-245-0441 or
Source: The Garden Island

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