On February 7, the Judiciary Committee of the Hawaiian state senate unanimously approved S.B. 686, a bill to legalize adult use. The Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i (DPFH) hailed this as a first, as previous legalization bills have died in committee. The bill’s likely next step is another committee; from there it may reach the floor for a vote.


The introductory section of the bill states: “the legalization of marijuana for personal or recreational use is a natural, logical, and reasonable outgrowth of the current science of marijuana and attitude toward marijuana.” The bill would:

  1. Decriminalize and regulate small amounts of marijuana for personal use;
  2. Establish a licensing scheme for the cultivation, sale, and use of small amounts of marijuana for personal use;
  3. Tax marijuana sales in the same manner as state excise taxes; and
  4. Subject income derived from marijuana sales to state income taxes.

The bill also outlines plans for achieving several regulatory goals relating to testing and labeling as well as cultivation, licensing (with a $5,000 fee cap), and taxation. The state’s Department of Health, which currently regulates the medical marijuana program, would be charged with regulating the adult use market.

Hope of Passage

The 2019 legislative session began with legalization as a priority. True to the word of the bill, legalization has become a “reasonable outgrowth” of current public opinion in Hawaii as well as scientific findings. In response, Hawaii’s Democratic Party issued a list of its priorities for 2019 that placed “legalizing recreational cannabis” in the top tier. The state’s legislature is in the hands of Democrats, so the placement of legalization as a top priority is cause for optimism. The governor, David Ige, is also a Democrat, but AP reports that he has concerns about legalization in the island state as long as marijuana is illegal on the federal level, having said that “[a]ny person coming to the islands has to know that they’re crossing a federal boundary which would make them subject to criminal sanctions.” Ige did sign a medical cannabis bill into law in 2015, but he also opposed expansion of the medical program to help opioid addicts. On the other hand, the Democratic Party’s prioritization of legalization, together with committee approval of S.B. 686, is a signal that legalization may come to Hawaii in 2019. Kalani English, the Senate Majority Leader, has said that the push for legalization has reached a “tipping point.”

Other Concerns

If the bill continues on a path toward passage and the governor’s signature, it may be modified and expanded. The proposed excise tax of 15% is likely to be debated, and the DPFH has called for justice reform, such as expungement, to be made part of the legalization effort, tweeting:

#Cannabis reform should include reinvestment in communities harmed by the larger drug war, including wider provision of harm reduction services and evidence-based treatment on demand. Feds need to #deschedule and allow banking access.

Now that a legalization bill has made it out of committee and Hawaii’s dominant political party has announced that legalization is a priority, it seems possible that Hawaii will join Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California in legalization. What shape the final bill will take remains to be seen.

What do you think? Will Hawaii legalize adult use in 2019? Leave a comment below.

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