HONOLULU, Hawaii, (Feb. 20, 2023) – Last week, Hawaii Senate committees passed two bills to legalize marijuana for adult use despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Chris Lee (D) introduced Senate Bill 375 (SB375) along with six fellow Democrats and a Republican on Jan. 20. Under the proposed law, adults 21 and older could legally possess up to 4 ounces of cannabis and grow up to 10 plants in a locked area. The proposed law would also create a regulatory and tax scheme for the commercial sale of marijuana. The bill includes provisions to create a process for expunging prior cannabis convictions.
On Feb. 16, the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee passed SB375 by a 3-1 vote and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed the bill 2-1.
A second measure sponsored by Sen. Joy San Buenaventura (D) and three fellow democrats (SB669) passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 3-0, but with an effective date of 2075. This effectively kills the bill, while allowing it to continue in the legislative process. It can be amended and revived later or used to force a conference committee down the road.
According to Marijuana Moment, “Advocates have generally favored Lee’s proposal, SB375, because it includes several explicit social equity provisions meant to support communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.”
SB699 differs slightly from SB375. Under the proposed law, people over 21 and over could use, display, purchase, transfer, or transport cannabis, cannabis accessories, or cannabis paraphernalia for personal use. Personal use is defined as “an amount of cannabis not exceeding thirty grams.” Cultivation and possession of up to six marijuana plants (three mature) would also be legal.
SB669 would create a regulatory and tax scheme for the commercial sale of marijuana. Amendments in committee added provisions for an expungement process.
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 a 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 medical or adult use in Hawaii would wipe away another layer of laws supporting cannabis prohibition in the state. 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
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. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. In 2021, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action, and Rhode Island legalized cannabis for adult use in 2022. With Missouri and Maryland legalizing marijuana in November, there are now 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 21 legalizing for adult recreational use.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “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.”
SB669 and SB375 now move to the House Ways and Means Committee where they must get a hearing and pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.