Hawaii had a difficult time with cannabis legalization efforts under previous Governor Ige. With Ige now gone, Hawaii has a new plan, which was put forth by the attorney general of the state.
New Hawaii legalization plan
As per a November 17th report in Hawaii News Now, Hawaii’s Attorney General Anne Lopez, who had stated in April that her office was in support of recreational cannabis legalization; followed up that statement, with the release of a comprehensive bill. As of yet, not everyone agrees on it. Some want more in the vein of equity measures, some think it keeps weed use too criminalized. Some don’t think cannabis should be legalized at all. It’s expected there will be a revised version, that will take into account some of these concerns.
While Lopez was at one point opposed to cannabis legalization, her stance has clearly changed. Her 294-page bill covers the regulatory laws surrounding a cannabis legalization, and a sales market. It includes provisions such as the following:
In terms of taxes, all cannabis products would receive a 10% sales tax (except medical products), and a 4.25% excise tax. It seems rather than a higher excise tax, there is instead a higher sales tax. This could indicate that what is generally picked up as an excise sin tax, is now picked up as a sales sin tax. It does include grants and a support system to get illegal legacy operators into the legal market; and it establishes the creation of a regulatory agency to oversee everything from the production and sale of products, to product testing, social equity provisions, and law enforcement.
Lopez doesn’t want this to drag on forever. According to her plan, legal dispensaries should be up and running within 18 months, assuming the bill is approved. Said House Judiciary Chair David via Hawaii News Now, “The attorney general has done a really good job pulling together all of the different input and providing a comprehensive bill.” State Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole agreed, saying this plan represents “the best version to date. And part of it is the efforts to try and address a lot of the issues that came up along the way.”
Consistent with other legalization bills, there is an expectation that medical dispensaries could sell recreational cannabis first; as these enterprises already meet all the regulation requirements. “They’re already standing up, they’re already growing, they are already prepared to go to market,” said Lopez.
The legacy aspect
The legacy part of the bill is important. What this really means, is that the state would encourage illegal growers/producers/dealers to work legally instead of in the black market. The state would help accommodate this in two ways; since its already understood that legal weed markets with expensive regulation requirements and a need for a decent amount of capital; are not automatically accessible to equity and legacy operators.
The first way is through grants and other supportive help; to provide some of the money, know-how, general help, and additional resources, to get a person started. The second way, is through law enforcement. For example, if a dealer is caught, and doesn’t choose to change over to a legal enterprise, they face a 14-member specialized law enforcement unit. So its help, but with a large threat attached.
Lopez addressed the issue like this, saying “The most important thing we can do is we can bring the people who have been growing and selling marijuana illegally into the legal market.” She continued, “It’s going to be a concerted investigative process to ensure that the law is followed.”
Pretty much everywhere, the black market continues to dwarf legal markets. Whereas adding close to 15% in taxes isn’t a move to promote competition with it; Lopez thinks the state might be able to simply take the illegal market, and convince it to be above board. While this could work, if it really is set up properly; it faces the same issues as other equity initiatives. It likely can’t account for the huge amount of money needed to build a business and meet unnecessarily pricey regulation; there isn’t a great way to get loans for this population; and it simply hasn’t worked well yet, in other locations.
Pushback to the bill
Like most stuff that happens in government, not everybody is on board. In fact, according to some, law enforcement is generally against it. Of course, this sentiment should be taken with a grain of salt; as law enforcement is made up of many different people and job titles. All with their own opinions on the matter.
Even so, according to Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm, law enforcement officials are very much against legalizing cannabis in general. Alm says its not about Lopez’s plan, per say, but a lack of desire to change from the current status quo. Alm specifically used the words ‘not broken’ when referring to prohibition; and then said that an adult use cannabis market would lead to more hospitalizations, without mitigating the black markets.
As per what he told Hawaii News Now “To me, there is no impetus to changing the system. Teenagers go to the emergency room thinking they’re going crazy because it’s such a strong drug. It’s a different drug entirely.” This is odd though, because he also just said that a legal market wouldn’t mitigate the black market. Which means these products already exist; and are already sold. A legalization wouldn’t therefore introduce something new. But it would divert some sales to a legal market. Probably more if unnecessary taxes aren’t leveraged.
Of course, Alm himself is specifically anti-cannabis. He spoke of cannabis being the cause of traffic accidents and mental illness, when these things are not backed up anywhere. On the other hand, Alm doesn’t represent all law enforcement; and The Department of Law Enforcement actually collaborated with the Attorney General’s office on the bill.
Hawaii cannabis woes
Right now, Hawaii has a medical legalization; which was the first instituted in the US, which didn’t come from a ballot measure. The law originally changed in 2000, when cultivation for medical patients was legalized. Dispensaries didn’t open until 2016; and even now, there are only a few of them throughout the state.
Hawaii also has a decriminalization measure from 2019. Governor Ige, who vetoed other cannabis measures, didn’t agree with this decriminalization; but also seemed to understand he couldn’t stop it from happening. He made a big deal of allowing the bill to pass through to law, without ever signing it. Governor’s have a certain amount of time to respond to a bill. If they don’t officially sign it or repeal it within this time, it automatically passes into law.
Around the same time he allowed the decriminalization to pass through, Ige vetoed two bills. One bill was to open inter-island medical weed transportation throughout the state, and one for an industrial hemp licensing program. In terms of the former, Ige’s excuse was that it could create confusion for foreigners who “erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution.” He said this because “airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government.”
Of course, every place with a legalization, is bordered by a place without it; and yet we somehow depend on the public to not be dumb enough to apply the rules of one place, to another. And as of yet, it hasn’t seemed to cause some huge confusion in the population. The idea is actually pretty well understood that different states have different laws. In my mind, it was quite insulting to the general population on Ige’s part, to say it.
Other legalization efforts stalled out in Hawaii during Ige’s time; as it was posited that there wasn’t much chance he would actually let one through. Now that Ige is no longer in office, it seems the state shouldn’t have much problem; and unless Alm represents the majority, a legalization is likely. As a showing that things are already changing, an inter-island transportation law was approved in June of this year; much like what Ige vetoed earlier. Plus, new Governor Josh Green, already said he’d sign a legalization bill if it came across his desk.
It seems that Hawaii might be next on the docket for a recreational cannabis legalization; with this new bill through the attorney general’s office. If it passes, it would join 24 other states with recreational measures. Stay tuned to find out if it does.
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