Numerous bills tackle marijuana-related issues

State lawmakers are preparing to introduce a slew of marijuana-related bills this year.

More than a dozen proposed laws relating to marijuana or cannabis products were or will be introduced in the state House and Senate, ranging from a proposed expansion of the conditions legally treatable by medical cannabis to a total decriminalization of cannabis for personal recreational use.

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Of the 11 cannabis-related bills in the House, only two have been formally introduced so far. House Bill 37 would allow medical cannabis to be used to treat opioid addiction, and House Bill 131 would bring the state’s policy on hemp production in line with federal law, which legalized hemp products last year.

State Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, D-Puna, who introduced or co-introduced nearly all of the House’s marijuana-related bills, said she thinks legalizing hemp in Hawaii will be an “easy sell.”

As for the other bill, she thinks there is a growing understanding that it is preferable for people to use marijuana rather than opioids.

“It’s not a dangerous drug; it’s not like heroin or cocaine or ice,” said San Buenaventura.

The remaining House bills are pending introduction, but deal with a wide range of cannabis topics.

House bills 293 and 679 would permit medical marijuana patients to transport cannabis between the islands, while HB 583 would legalize the sale of edible medical marijuana products. Another bill, 698, would allow medical marijuana to be used to treat severe autism.

HB 673 lists a host of goals, including permitting naturopathic physicians to prescribe cannabis, allowing dispensaries to have separate manufacturing and production facilities, allowing dispensaries to operate on state and federal holidays and allowing a dispensary to purchase products from another dispensary in the event of a crop failure.

Finally, while House Bill 434 would reclassify minor marijuana offenses as noncriminal violations, two other bills would, if passed, render that bill moot.

House Bill 291 would permit individual counties to legalize marijuana cultivation, possession and sales by anyone 21 or older, while HB 708 would permit those 21 or older to own up to six marijuana plants and sell up to 1 ounce without penalty.

The state Senate has another 11 marijuana-related bills in the introduction phase. While many of them share descriptions with the House bills, others have their own unique goals, such as allowing patients to form medical cannabis collectives and reducing the penalty for attempting to obtain marijuana fraudulently.

Three Senate bills also call for the decriminalization of recreational marijuana use, although Senate Bill 606 stipulates supplying marijuana to a minor would still carry a penalty. That bill also would require courts to expunge a person’s criminal record for a marijuana conviction if that was the only charge to emerge from a given incident.

“Decriminalizing marijuana has always been a priority of mine,” San Buenaventura said. While Hawaii was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 2000, the state has fallen behind others in the push for legalization, she added.

Continuing to spend resources on punishing harmless marijuana offenses, in a state with high costs of incarceration, is irresponsible and illogical, San Buenaventura concluded.

“Look at the trend on the mainland,” said cannabis activist Andrea Tischler. “Eight states have legalized it already. It’s high time the state Legislature did, too.

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“Now with medical cannabis dispensaries here — finally — we can move to the next step.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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