Marijuana legalization bill clears committee hurdle

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo Marijuana plants grow in the garden of a medical marijuana card holder.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday became the first legislative committee in Hawaii to pass a bill that would legalize recreational adult use of marijuana.

Senate Bill 686, introduced by Sen. J. Kalani English, a Maui Democrat, with Sen. Russell Ruderman of Puna as one of the co-sponsors, passed with amendments by a unanimous 5-0 vote.


If passed into law, it would take effect in in February 2020.

It now goes to Ways and Means, the Senate’s money committee.

The measure — which would legalize personal use of cannabis by adults 21 and over and allow the sale of marijuana in small quantities by licensed establishments — was supported by entities including the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii. The bill noted that Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska already have legalized and are regulating the production, possession and distribution of cannabis for adult users.

Carl Bergquist, the Drug Policy Forum’s executive director, noted it was “just the first step in the legislative process” and added it was a “historic development to move Hawaii away from criminalizing to taxing-and-regulating adult-use cannabis (that) should not be underestimated.”

“Going forward, we will work diligently to ensure that Hawaii’s legalization is infused with the social justice ethos of California’s adult use cannabis law and the bills being discussed currently in other state legislatures like New Jersey and New York,” Bergquist said in a statement. “This means helping to clear cannabis convictions off people’s records and working so that the communities, particularly the Native Hawaiian, who have been disproportionately impacted by the unjust current law are not excluded from a future adult use industry.”

Big Island marijuana activist Roger Christie supports the bill with amendments, but said the one ounce of marijuana and six plants — three of them mature — the measure would allow “sounds more like Prohibition 2.0.”

“We want, need, deserve and demand full and free access to the natural, God-given plant cannabis now,” Christie said.

Christie and his wife, Share Christie, served federal prison sentences after The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry in downtown Hilo, which they operated, was raided in March and July 2010.

Opponents of the bill include Attorney General Clare Connors, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii and the American Academy of Pediatrics Hawaii Chapter.

“Marijuana possession, cultivation and distribution is illegal under federal law,” Connors pointed out in written testimony.

MADD Hawaii quoted a report that stated since recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2013, marijuana-related traffic deaths there increased 151 percent while all Colorado traffic deaths rose 35 percent.


The pediatrics organization called marijuana “very harmful to adolescent health and development” and suggested “postponing legalization and convening a task force to study the health consequences of marijuana.”

Email John Burnett at

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