Lawmaker wants Hawaii to profit off pot

Lawmaker wants Hawaii to profit off pot

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state lawmaker has a plan to profit off pot. Representative Rida Cabanilla (D - Ewa Beach, West Loch Estates) wants to form a working group to explore the feasibility of legalizing the growth of marijuana here in Hawai'i for sale and export to foreign jurisdictions where its usage is legal.

"Can you imagine factories that would be making Maui Wowie cookies?  And making marijuana macadamia nut chocolate candies for export?  This is not for local use.  I think that would be wonderful," said Cabanilla, the House Majority Floor Leader.

Cabanilla says she introduced the bill in the interest of economic development.

"The state of Colorado made $1.6 billion in two weeks just by selling it.  How much do you think we're going to make for producing it and selling it?" Cabanilla said.  "I think that with the revenue that we're going to collect – your imagination is the only thing that would limit you. The revenue would be in the billions."

Currently, any sale of marijuana across state or international lines would violate federal drug trafficking laws.

"The notion that we would allow for the commercial production of marijuana flies in the face of federal laws," explained Myles Breiner, a criminal defense attorney.  "The highways couldn't be used – H1, H2 and H3 are considered part of the interstate system, therefore it interferes with commerce. None of the marijuana could be transported by cargo shipments or by the airport – again, it's federal land.  So is it realistic that it would happen?  No, but it's a good place to start," Breiner said.

Cabanilla says the intent is to have a working group figure out how to implement the measure if and when marijuana is no longer an illegal substance federally.

"Should that be lifted, then we're ready to rock," Cabanilla said.  "I've spoken with somebody – even the Department of Agriculture – they're hoping that ban will be lifted around May.  There are initiatives to lift that ban."

House Bill 2124 doesn't advocate for legalizing recreational marijuana use here in Hawai'i and Cabanilla says it isn't meant to supply states like Colorado or Washington where it is allowed. Instead, she says her idea is to let Hawai'i farmers grow pot and sell it to countries like the Netherlands.

"Once you put in Hawai'i grown marijuana that would trump any supplier they may have.  I honestly believe that and this state would turn into a manufacturing state," Cabanilla said.  "We are the best.  We have the best marijuana in the world. I haven't tried it but the people that have tried it say, 'Wow!'"

Cabanilla says all commercial activities from the production and export of marijuana and marijuana products would be taxed and revenues would be used for public education, health care and human service programs.

"We can fund our schools.  We may be the state that doesn't need to pay taxes.  We can build our roads. We can fund our unfunded liability.  We are going to be a state that can serve our people to their liking," Cabanilla described.

Representative Richard Creagan, M.D. (D – Naalehu, Captain Cook, Keauhou) co-sponsored the bill.

"It's hard for me to say at this point how powerful of an economic engine it would be for Hawai'i.  I admire her faith in that and I think it might be warranted and I think that's part of why a working group is useful to explore it, because as she said that would prepare us to be ready should the opportunity present itself to our state. Our country is moving towards an eventual goal of legalizing marijuana. It's legalized in a host of states for medical reasons and when you look at the risk benefit of marijuana versus other things like narcotics the risk is small and the benefit is huge," Creagan said.

Representative Faye Hanohano (D – Hawaiian Acres, Pahoa, Kalapana) also co-introduced the measure.

"It's already growing, of course, it's illegal but we do have the highest medical permits on Hawaii Island because we do have a lot of people who are in need of medical marijuana.  I did also introduce a Compassion Center bill so that they wouldn't have to go to the black market to get their marijuana.  It is an economic driver and also it takes care of the health for people that are in need—especially people that have cancer," Hanohano said.

The proposal has gotten mixed reactions from organizations that both oppose and support efforts to legalize marijuana use in Hawai'i.

Alan Shinn, Executive Director of Coalition for a Drug Free Hawai'i, thinks the bill is misguided.  Shinn says if marijuana is grown here, it's going to be used here.

Michael Attocknie, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai'i, says lawmakers should be focusing instead on access to medical marijuana, which is legal here.

"Our first priority is to ensure that in-state patients have access to medical marijuana through state dispensaries," explained Attocknie.

Cabanilla says that's something to consider, but for now says Hawai'i shouldn't miss out on the opportunity to lead the way as a marijuana manufacturing state.

"I don't agree that our people should be using it, but I mean if those countries that have accepted it for their people and they have laws in place for it – who am I to judge?" Cabanilla said.

Cabanilla admits there are a lot of unanswered questions: where would the marijuana be grown?  Would the state partner with private farmers?  Should the tax on the sale of pot be as high as 25%?  Cabanilla says these are all thing the working group, which would be established by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, will have to figure out.

At this time, the bill still hasn't been referred to any committees for a hearing.

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