Legislative committees in Hawaii have approved separate bills that would legalize marijuana for adults and direct the state to further study psychedelic-assisted therapy, advancing both measures to the Senate floor ahead of an end-of-week deadline.
Lawmakers in a joint committee session on Thursday approved the cannabis legalization measure, SB 669, after adopting a number of fresh amendments. The changes won over at least two lawmakers, one Democrat and one Republican, who voted for the measure despite saying they were initially opposed.
“Originally I was going to vote no on this one, but I’m going to trust your leadership,” Sen. Brenton Awa (R) told Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole (D), one of the bill’s cosponsors and the chair of the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, which considered the bill alongside the Senate Ways and Means Committee at Thursday’s hearing.
“I’m for legalization,” Awa said. “I don’t like the restrictions, but I’ll be voting yes.”
Sen. Herbert “Tim” Richards III (D), the House assistant majority whip, said that while he still has reservations about the proposal, he was willing to move it to the Senate floor.
“I fully appreciate the work you’ve done on this, and I’m seeing a way forward,” he said to Keohokalole before the vote. “So I’ll be supporting this with reservations. I still have my concerns, but I can support this going forward.”
Advocates have been hard at work in recent years crafting legislation to legalize cannabis that can win broad support from lawmakers. At this point in the legislative session, sponsors are working to build consensus on the details of the proposal through conversations with colleagues and other state officials. Recent changes to SB 669 reflect both requests from the state attorney general’s office, which has expressed reservations about the bill, as well as input from legalization advocates and organizations.
The proposed law would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and grow six plants. Licensed businesses could cultivate, process and sell marijuana products, which would be subject to a 10 percent tax.
A competing cannabis legalization bill, meanwhile, was scheduled for consideration on Wednesday but was set aside instead of being voted on.
Amendments on the bill that did adcvance, described Thursday by Keohokalole, made a number of changes to the underlying legislation. Notably, personal use was amended to include the use of not just marijuana flower but also cannabis concentrates and other products. The original version of the bill would have outlawed vapor products. Another change creates civil penalties for unlicensed commercial cannabis activity, a modification requested by the attorney general’s office.
A number of revisions also attempt to discourage monopolistic business practices in the would-be legal industry by limiting the size of cultivation facilities and capping the number of licenses and locations a cannabis business can control. Businesses in the licensed industry would also be prohibited from obtaining a cannabis testing facility license in order to prevent conflicts of interest.
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Other changes to the original bill were made through a substitute measure adopted by another committee last month. Among them, according to a committee report, are that the personal use of cannabis would be prohibited anywhere in the state that smoking tobacco is forbidden. Similarly, condominiums would be permitted to restrict the smoking of marijuana in the manner they restrict or prohibit tobacco smoking.
The substitute also added language allowing for the expungement of records in certain past cannabis cases, which activists had called on lawmakers to incorporate into the bill.
Legalization advocates at the Marijuana Policy Project, which had asked for revisions to the original bill, said in an email that they supported many of the new changes and look forward to the bill’s progression through the legislature.
“We’re very encouraged by the amendments made in committee to SB 669 including a required medical preservation plan for licensees that wish to convert to dual use, and the inclusion of expungement provisions,” DeVaughn Ward, MPP’s senior legislative counsel, told Marijuana Moment. “We anticipate 669 will receive a vote in the Senate next week and we’re urging Speaker Saiki to refer the bill to committee chairs so lawmakers can continue crafting a policy to end cannabis prohibition in Hawaii.”
Several more changes were made to the substitute at the request of the state attorney general’s office, including adding a track-and-trace requirement for cannabis products and giving permission for state regulators to establish penalties for regulated businesses, such as fines and license suspensions or revocations.
Legalization advocates generally welcomed the changes to SB 669 made Thursday. Nikos Leverenz of the Drug Policy Forum said legislative leaders “deserve praise” for the new amendments that helped build bipartisan support to move the bill forward.
“Most notably, it appears that production of cannabis flower and products will be diversified among a broad range of participants,” Leverenz told Marijuana Moment, referring to the new licensing changes. “It’s also welcome to see both Senate Republicans supporting of the measure.”
Leverenz had previously submitted testimony to lawmakers that said Drug Policy Forum strongly supported the substitute bill but wanted to see further changes, for example removing the ban on vaporized cannabis products. He also encouraged changes to promote social equity and support Native Hawaiians, women and “other groups underrepresented in other commercial sectors” who want to enter the regulated industry.
Legislators have worked to enact legalization in the Aloha State over several sessions, but while the reform was approved in the Senate in 2021, it stalled after failing to proceed past a House committee by a key deadline.
Advocates also struggled under former Democratic Gov. Dave Ige, who resisted legalization in part because he said he was reluctant to pass a policy in conflict with federal law. That’s despite the fact that Hawaii has a medical marijuana system that allows people to grow and sell cannabis in contravention of broad federal prohibition.
Under current Gov. Josh Green (D), activists are feeling emboldened. He said in November that he’d sign a bill to legalize cannabis for adults and already has ideas about how tax revenue from marijuana sales could be used.
Blake Oshiro, a senior advisor to the governor, told HawaiiNewsNow on Thursday that Green “supports legalized use of cannabis by adults, providing that any legislation that emerges protects public safety and consumers, and assures product safety with testing and tracking.”
“The governor also seeks to ensure the continued viability of our medical cannabis industry,” he said. “Because these are complicated issues, he has encouraged his departments to state their concerns, and to make suggestions if there are ways to mitigate them. If a bill passes the legislature that accounts for his primary concerns, he has indicated he will likely sign it.”
On the psychedelics front, the Senate Ways and Means Committee also advanced SB 1454, which would establish a state working group to examine the medical and therapeutic effects of psilocybin. It is now eligible for floor action as soon as next week.
Separate legislation under consideration, meanwhile, HB 1340 and companion bill SB 1531, would establish a broader “beneficial treatments” advisory council, which would examine not only psilocybin but other substances, such as MDMA.
The House version of the legislation was amended and approved in committee on Tuesday.
Emerging evidence shows the drugs “to be promising and even groundbreaking clinical treatments for a wide range of mental and psychiatric diagnoses,” the bill says, including anxiety, substance use disorder, depression, end-of-life anxiety and PTSD.
Meanwhile, Sen. Stanley Chang (D) recently filed a Senate concurrent resolution that would similarly request a “Medicinal Psilocybin and Psilocin Working Group” to study local, state and federal laws on the entheogens, existing scientific literature on the therapeutic value of the fungi and possible the medical protocol for administering psilocybin.
There’s been significant interest in psychedelics policy in the Aloha State and nationwide this year, with a main focus on creating a research framework that could inform future legislation on providing regulated access to the substances.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos