Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez last week released a new plan to legalize adult-use cannabis that one lawmaker characterized as the state’s best effort so far. Under the plan, the state would allow for the production and sale of recreational cannabis while protecting the state’s existing industry for medical marijuana.
Hawaii legalized medical marijuana in 2000, although the state did not license medicinal cannabis dispensaries until 2018. Earlier this year, the Hawaii Senate passed a bill to legalize recreational cannabis, but the bill failed to gain the support of the state House of Representatives.
State lawmakers who have seen the attorney general’s new proposal for adult-use cannabis legalization say that she has produced a comprehensive plan that addresses the shortcomings of previous efforts at marijuana policy reform.
“The attorney general has done a really good job pulling together all of the different input and providing a comprehensive bill,” said David Tarnas, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, according to a report from Hawaii News Now.
The attorney general’s 294-page cannabis legalization proposal establishes a 4.25% excise tax on adult-use marijuana plus a 10% tax surcharge. Tax revenues would be directed to enhancing law enforcement resources and education programs to protect young people.
State Senator Jarrett Keohokalole, the chair of the Consumer Protection Committee, said that the plan is “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.”
Proposal Modeled After Massachusetts’ Legalization Plan
Lopez’s plan is similar to Massachusetts’ marijuana legalization model and includes a social equity program to address the harms caused by years of cannabis prohibition. The social equity program, which includes grants and support programs for illegal growers to help them adapt to the regulated industry, is designed to help the current illicit industry have a chance to participate in the legal market.
“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,” Lopez said.
The cannabis legalization plan establishes a 14-member law enforcement unit to help ensure compliance with the state’s cannabis legalization laws.
“It’s going to be a concerted investigative process to ensure that the law is followed,” Lopez said.
Under Lopez’s plan, the cannabis industry would be regulated by the Hawaii Cannabis Authority. The new agency would be tasked with enforcing regulations, establishing a lab testing program to ensure the safety of cannabis products and implementing social equity and health education programs.
To support medical cannabis patients and the existing medical marijuana industry, the 10% cannabis tax surcharge will not apply to medical marijuana purchases. Retail sales of adult-use cannabis will likely begin at medical dispensaries because they have already completed the state’s licensing process.
“They’re already standing up, they’re already growing, they are already prepared to go to market,” said Lopez.
Under Lopez’s plan, retail sales of adult-use cannabis would begin 18 months after the proposal becomes law. Lawmakers said the delay is reasonable and necessary to effectively implement the program. Keaohokalole said that he hopes the plan can be introduced and approved during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January. Tarnas, however, said he was not sure that timeline would be feasible because the legislature will be busy with issues related to responding to this year’s wildfires on Maui and state budget negotiations.
Hawaii lawmakers attempted to legalize adult-use cannabis earlier this year with a bill that was approved by the state Senate in March. Had it passed, Senate Bill 669 would have legalized marijuana for adults 21 and established a regulated market for licensed sales of adult-use cannabis. The state House of Representatives, however, declined to approve the legislation.
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