Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023|
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State lawmakers today will consider legislation that would legalize the adult recreational use of marijuana.
More than a dozen individuals testified Wednesday during a joint session of the state Senate committees on Health and Human Services and Commerce and Consumer Protection about a bill that would legalize adult recreational use of marijuana.
Senate Bill 375 — a 117-page measure introduced by Sen. Chris Lee, an Oahu Democrat — also would regulate and tax cannabis and manufactured cannabis products for recreational use, and exempt medical cannabis and cannabis products from the general excise tax.
Sen. Joy San Buenaventura, a Puna Democrat and the Health and Human Services chairwoman, deferred voting on the bill until 9:29 a.m. today.
The delay is to allow the Senate Judiciary Committee, which meets at 9 a.m., to hear SB 669, a similar measure introduced by San Buenaventura which several testifiers said they prefer.
Deputy Attorney General Andrew Goff testified against SB 375, “mainly on law enforcement concerns.” He also questioned regulatory and administrative provisions of the legislation.
“This does create a cannabis regulatory authority, but it does not include any personnel that would be able to enforce the regulations that would be created, and definitely not enforce the criminal laws,” Goff said “Also, there’s a little bit of a confusing language on what would be allowed regarding use and possession.
“We’d be happy to work with anybody to iron that out.”
Goff also expressed reservations about a provision to expunge individuals’ criminal convictions for simple marijuana possession.
“The bill requires the AG to go through an automatic expungement process. It would be very costly and time-consuming,” he said. “It does give until Jan. 1, 2025, to automatically expunge. And I would note that our office currently has one person that’s in charge of expunging — and they do not do it quickly.”
The Honolulu Police Department stood on its written testimony, citing a “negative impact on public safety” and concerns about impaired drivers and increased availability of marijuana to juveniles.
Also providing written testimony in opposition were the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network — citing its support of a “smoke-free Hawaii” — the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu, Hawaii Family Forum, and the Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii.
Nikos Leverenz of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii urged passage of the measure. He said it comes at “a really critical time” with “a governor who’s supportive of adult use cannabis legalization.”
“We have bipartisan support for cannabis legalization now, and we hope that this bill can make clear that people who are in the legacy market will be invited to participate,” Leverenz said, referring to individuals in the marijuana industry prior to legalization.
“Our Native Hawaiian communities have been disproportionately impacted by the war on cannabis and the large drug war.”
Tai Cheng, president of Aloha Green Holdings Inc., a medical cannabis company, testified in support of SB 375, but expressed misgivings about the “ambitious nature of this bill.”
“It has a number of provisions that are, you know, high cost and require a lot of time to set up,” Cheng said.
Cheng stated a preference for SB 669, describing it as a “very clean and streamlined bill.”
“And any social equity or expungement, and/or amendments to that bill could be added,” he said.
Randy Gonce, director of the Hawaii Cannabis Industry Association, also testified in support, but said SB 375 presents “a lot of administrative burden,” including a “waiting period” between the start of legalized use and legal sales of cannabis.
“And what we’ve seen in places like New York is, with an administrative burden that doesn’t allow sales from Day One, we see a proliferation of the black market,” he said.
Gonce described SB 669 — which is less than half the length of SB 375 — as “much cleaner.”
“If we get Day One sales, we can really prevent a lot of that black market activity and give (licensees) an entry point into the system,” he said. “And the industry does not care who sells on Day One, but we want to make clear that someone needs to do that to make sure the black market does not pop up and become the de facto retailer for individuals who want their medicine.”
DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, favored the bill with amendments. He called it “a great model.”
“It does offer a pathway for folks in the legacy market to transition into the regulated market,” Ward told lawmakers. “And it also does provide some … restorative justice measure for folks who … were harmed by the cannabis prohibition,” he said.
Written testimony in support of SB 375 came from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, medical cannabis operators such as Big Island Grown, Habilitat, the Democratic Party of Hawaii, Imua Alliance and Kuakini Hawaiian Civic Club of Kona.
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