HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pot smokers feel this is the year Hawaii lawmakers will legalize marijuana but opponents say they have federal law on their side which still outlaws the drug.
There is no shortage of opinion on the subject. More than 400 pages of testimony have been submitted so far and that's just on one of the dozens of bills talking about marijuana at the state capitol.
With marijuana now legal in Colorado and Washington State and new Hawaii House Speaker Joe Souki strongly in support of legalizing pot, marijuana advocates feel like momentum is on their side.
"I think it's looking really good, better than it's looked in a long time," said Greg Azus, Hawaii's Natural High Owner.
Today lawmakers heard testimony on House Bill 699 which would legalize marijuana for anyone over 21 years old. It would allow permitted farmers to grow pot and licensed marijuana retailers to sell it. Then the state would collect a 15 percent tax on sales.
"If we could get $20 million a year in taxes there are a lot of places it could go. Me personally I would like to see it go to teachers, police officers, firemen, other programs within the city that need funding," said Azus.
"I think the social costs would greatly outweigh that. We'd have an increase in crime, we'd have more treatment needs, law enforcement, courts and I think the social costs are going to far outweigh any revenues the state would realize," said Alan Shinn, Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii Executive Director.
The proposal says people can carry up to an ounce of weed for personal use. Law enforcement says that's enough for 56 joints, an insane amount for personal use. That's just one reason law enforcement in the state is against legalization.
"We're sending the wrong message here. With our kids we've known through studies that marijuana does impact our youth," said Keith Kamita, State Department of Public Safety.
"When marijuana dispensaries started to proliferate the police were all reporting increases in crime more murders, robberies, burglaries, assaults, thefts," said Lance Goto, Deputy Attorney General.
Supporters say pot smokers shouldn't be lumped in with hardened criminals.
"On the way here I was reflecting on the number of people I know who do smoke marijuana and manage to live productive lives," said Bart Dame, Progressive Democrats of Hawaii.
"In Hawaii we believe that laws should be practical and fair but today we are wasting millions of dollars by having our criminal justice system treat marijuana users like violent criminals," said Laurie Temple, ACLU of Hawaii.
"We know prohibition has not worked. We know our prisons are bursting with nonviolent drug offenders," said Kat Brady, Community Alliance on Prisons.
"It's just like pharmacies selling pills to people and you look at all the side effects those have. You buy some pill and its got like 20 side effects whereas marijuana is a natural herb. I don't really think it is making people do bad things or have bad side effects on people," said Azus. "There's only an upside that I see at this point."
"You see changes in behavior, psychological problems, paranoia, depression, mood swings, and we know it can cause some harm to chronic users," said Shinn. "With federal law on our side I don't think they are going to prevail at this session."
No vote was taken today but with dozens of bills at the capitol pertaining to marijuana there will be plenty of discussion in the coming weeks.
To read more details regarding House Bill 699 click here.