Follow us
Culture Industry Medical Cannabis Opinion Policy

When Governors Won’t Sign: Hawaii’s Slow Cannabis Reform

Hawaii's cannabis reform
Written by Sarah Friedman

Getting the people on board is one thing. Getting the government on board is another. In Hawaii, for the most part, both of these groups are supportive of legalized cannabis, but the holdout is Governor Ige. What happens when the legislation is there, but governors won’t sign the bill? Here’s a look at Hawaii’s slow move to cannabis reform, and the main reason for its holdup.

Our elected officials are meant to work on our behalf, so its troubling when governors won’t sign a bill, or retract it, even when voters want it. It certainly doesn’t say much for working on behalf of the people, and this is a reason for Hawaii’s slow cannabis reform. Our news publication covers stories in the growing cannabis and psychedelics landscapes, which you can be a part of by subscribing to the THC Weekly Newsletter. Besides updates, you’ll also get prime offers on deals for tons of cannabis paraphernalia, along with cannabinoid compounds, like HHC-O, Delta 8Delta 9 THCDelta-10 THCTHCOTHCVTHCP HHC. Please remember, there are tons of cannabis products to choose from, and no one should use a product they are uncomfortable with.

Hawaii and cannabis now

Hawaii’s cannabis reform moves faster than some states, but slower than others. Cannabis is illegal for recreational purposes in Hawaii, but is legal for medical purposes. Hawaii is the first state to pass a medical legalization that didn’t come from a ballot measure. In 2000, the legislature passed Act 228. The law legalized cultivation of cannabis for medical marijuana cardholders, but did not set up a regulated sales market, or dispensaries.

Dispensaries didn’t open in the state until 2016, after the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program of Hawaii was created. This bill made a requirement for applicable patients to get registered; which includes a diagnosis from a doctor, and getting a registration card from the Department of Health. This was along with Act 241, which directed the Department of Health to begin a medical marijuana program by sometime in 2016. Bill 321 was also passed, which put in place the format for a dispensary system.

In 2019, Hawaii’s cannabis reform was stepped up with a decriminalization measure, but not in a standard way. That year the legislature passed a bill to decriminalize up to three grams of cannabis, and Governor Ige was supposed to sign it into law. In a strange move, Ige announced he would make no signature on the bill, but still allow it to pass into law by not making a move before the veto deadline.

cannabis legislation

What was the motivation behind this move? Its hard to say, but on January 11th, 2020, the law went into effect, which instituted a fine of $130 for possession of three grams or less, and took away jail time for that amount. Sort of a paltry decriminalization, which makes it funny that Ige was so set on making sure his signature didn’t end up on the piece of paper.

The problem of Ige

That last move should tell us something about the guy. Ige clearly doesn’t want Hawaii’s cannabis reform to progress any further, to the point of not wanting his name signed on a reform bill. But he also seems to understand that he doesn’t have a choice. This is evident from his allowance of the decriminalization to pass into law. The guy starts to sound like a small child having a tantrum, allowing something to go through that he’d be stupid to stop, yet making it clear to everyone that he doesn’t actually support it.

The problem when governors won’t sign, is that it means they have personal reasons against something, and are allowing those personal reasons to outweigh voter desire, or approved government laws. That’s right, Ige has actively vetoed other cannabis reform bills. In 2019, around the time that the decriminalization was allowed to pass without signature, Ige vetoed two other cannabis reform bills.

Of the two separate bills that passed congress, but were then vetoed, one would have opened the state for inter-island medical cannabis transportation, and one was meant to start an industrial hemp licensing program. Both went through the rounds as they’re supposed to, but after all that work, Ige vetoed them.

The Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii tried very hard to change Ige’s mind at the last minute on the inter-island medical cannabis transportation bill, but Ige wouldn’t budge from his stance. He claimed that because cannabis is federally illegal, that “airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government”. He apparently was concerned that people traveling in Hawaii might “erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution.”

Of course, medical consumers are no longer targeted by the federal government. More importantly, Ige is governor of a state with a medical cannabis allowance, and this too is federally illegal, begging the question of when exactly Ige is okay with breaking federal mandate, and when he’s not. As Ige was not in office when the medical legalization passed, he was not the one responsible for that forward step. However, ignoring its existence to argue a concern over breaking with federal mandate, is still rather contradictory.

cannabis in Hawaii

A third bill he vetoed, incidentally, would have limited police asset forfeiture, a measure meant to limit police abuse of citizens. The governor’s response to this issue of police abuse? “We have safeguards in place to avoid the abuse that is cited often.” Obviously he missed why the bill came up in the first place. If those safeguards handled the problem, the issue wouldn’t be ‘cited often’. And just the fact that he mentioned the abuse is ‘cited often’, but didn’t feel the need to do anything, is questionable.

It’s also of note that Ige previously vetoed a piece of legislation that would have added opioid use disorder as a justification for medical cannabis. Which means, it would have helped those trying to get off opioids, to access medical cannabis instead. Clearly Ige doesn’t think this is a good idea either, and prefers the growing number of opioid deaths, which currently total in the tens of thousands every year.

Legalization bill

Also in 2019, Hawaii had a legalization bill circulating its legislature. The bill, which would have opened an adult-use market, never made it past the House of Representatives. Lots of bills come and go in lots of places, so this isn’t that strange. But perhaps the reason it died in a democratically controlled congress, is less about it not being able to get through, and more about the understanding that Ige would likely veto it immediately.

In an interview with KITV, written about in Star Advertiser in 2019, when asked about this bill and the possibility of legalization, Ige didn’t state an official intention to veto or not, but did say “I’d have to look at it. I do have concerns. Marijuana is still a Schedule I substance, which is highly regulated by the federal government. Until that is changed, it is confusing for the public to think that it’s legalized here but, if they were to carry it beyond certain quantities, they could actually end up getting prosecuted and sent to prison for a very long time.”

Once again, Ige resorted to this idea that the public would be overwhelmingly confused by such a law. In doing so, ignoring that nearly every state has a recreational legalization, medical legalization, and/or a decriminalization measure, all of which break with federal mandate, all of which vary from each other, and all of which seem to be well understood by residents in all parts.

Is Ige saying he doesn’t think Hawaiians (or Americans in general) are capable of understanding this? That its beyond our intellectual capabilities to comprehend that something can have different legal standings in different parts of the country? And to the point of such utter confusion that in order to protect us from our own stupid selves, we can’t have the law enacted? Really its kind of insulting.

cannabis reform legislation

So its possible that when legislators brought up the issue of going against federal mandate, that it wasn’t their direct concern, but an understanding that as long as that can be used as a reason, Ige simply won’t sign a bill. Considering half the democrats in the senate co-sponsored the bill, it had a huge amount of support. And considering its a democratic congress (by massive margins), this should have meant passage, or at the very least, getting to a final vote, which it didn’t.

When governors go against bills

Plenty of governors veto bills they don’t like, and some go even further. Take South Dakota, for example. South Dakota technically legalized recreational cannabis in the 2020 elections. In that election, voters had two measures put before them. One for recreational cannabis called Measure A, and one for medical cannabis, called Measure 26. They both passed, meaning South Dakota pulled double duty, legalizing medical and recreational cannabis on the same day, and according to voter desires.

But that wasn’t okay with Governor Kristi Noem, who then conspired with law enforcement officials Sheriff Kevin Thom and Rick Miller to bring a case against the state to retract Amendment A. This was done on the grounds that South Dakota has a law that states there can only be single-subject ballot measures. Amendment A touched on several things from recreational cannabis, to medical, to hemp sales. We could therefore ask how the measure was approved for the election by the state, and how a mistake on the state’s part means taking something away from the people. Because regardless of all else, it passed by voter approval.

Noem’s part in the case was made public on January 8th, 2021, when she issued an executive order on the matter, making clear it was at her behest, as she had never wanted this bill in the first place. To make it that much more of a head shaker, the Supreme Court in the state upheld Noem’s complaint. Though it’s not hard to believe, considering presiding judge Christina Klinger was appointed by Noem herself.

In a bigger state, this might have gotten Noem thrown out of office immediately. It also might have created a louder debate on the matter of reversing a voter-affirmed ballot measure. Instead, Noem got her way, kept her job, and most people have no clue that South Dakota actually passed a legalization measure in the first place. And all because the governor didn’t agree with a bill.


Hawaii’s cannabis reform has stalled for the most part since 2019, and its probably because Ige’s existence in office essentially kills any chance. On the positive side, Hawaii only lets governors sit for two terms, and Ige’s time is up in November 2022. Anyone want to bet that Hawaii will pass a recreational cannabis bill immediately after Ige leaves? Ige and Noem represent a failing in our system, whereby voter will is denied, and bills that have passed are vetoed, all to support personal opinions. Ige will be gone soon, and hopefully Noem will likewise be voted right out of her seat come November.

Welcome all! Thanks for stopping by /, your top internet platform for fully-rounded independent coverage of the cannabis and psychedelics spaces. Join us whenever possible to stay aware of all changes, and sign up for The THC Weekly Newsletter, to ensure you’re up on everything going on – including all deals available.

Have anything to add? Your voice matters! Join the conversation and contribute your insights and ideas below.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.