HONOLULU, Hawaii (Feb. 13, 2019) – Last week, a Hawaii Senate committee unanimously passed a bill that would legalize small amounts of marijuana for adult use despite federal prohibition.

A coalition of eight Democrats introduced Senate Bill 686 (SB686) on Jan. 18. The legislation would permit the personal use of marijuana by adults 21 and over not exceeding 0.5 ounces.

“Personal use of cannabis shall not be the basis for arrest, seizure, or forfeiture of assets.”

SB686 would also authorize medical marijuana dispensaries to sell cannabis for personal use and would create a tax scheme for personal-use cannabis. It would not legalize the cultivation of marijuana for personal use.

On Feb. 7, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB686 by a 5-0 vote.


In 2000, Hawaii legalized medical marijuana and authorized registered patients or their caregivers to grow marijuana. But that initial law did not allow the sale of medicinal cannabis. That changed in 2015 with the passage of Act 241 authorizing the Hawaii Department of Health to administer a Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program beginning in 2016. Although limited in scope, the passage of SB686 would remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana even though federal prohibition will remain on the books.

Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing state prohibition, Hawaii would sweep away another part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.


Hawaii joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.

Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In 2018, Michigan voters approved recreational marijuana and Vermont became the first state to fully legalize marijuana through a legislative act.

With 33 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.

“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.


SB686 now moves to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health and the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. It will have to pass both committees by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.


Mike Maharrey

The 10th Amendment

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