HONOLULU, Hawaii (March 5, 2021) – This week, two Hawaii Senate committees advanced a bill that would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over despite federal cannabis prohibition.
A coalition of seven Democrats introduced Senate Bill 767 (SB767) on Jan 22. The legislation would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use, and it would allow adults to grow up to three mature plants, despite federal marijuana prohibition. Under the proposed law, the Hawaii Department of Health would craft rules for business licensing and retail sales by July 1. The agency would be tasked with creating regulations for licensing, security requirements, product labeling, health and safety regulations, advertising restrictions and the prevention of marijuana sales to minors.
On March 3, a joint meeting of the Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees passed SB767. Members of Ways and Means voted 8-2 to approve the measure. Members of the Judiciary Committee unanimously passed it 7-0. Previously, SB767 passed the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee by a 4-1 vote.
A separate bill relating to marijuana also cleared the Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 758 (SB758) would expand decriminalization. In January 2020, a law went into effect decriminalizing possession of three grams or less of marijuana making it similar to a traffic violation punishable by a fine of $130. SB758 would raise the threshold to 1 ounce.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Hawaii legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and also decriminalized marijuana possession despite ongoing federal prohibition.
Under the federal 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 cannabis 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.
The legalization of marijuana for personal use in Hawaii would take the next step and removes another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-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. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Hawaii is one of 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. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. During the November election, Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and New Jersey legalized marijuana for recreational use.
With 36 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, and 15 legalizing for adult recreational 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.
The push to legalize marijuana for personal use in Hawaii and to expand decriminalization demonstrates another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way for medical purposes – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand grows. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
SB767 will now move to the full Senate for consideration.
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