After opposing bills to legalize marijuana, AG-nominee offers a surprising stance

At her confirmation hearing today, Ann Lopez volunteered to lead a task force to develop a legal cannabis law in the next few months
Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 5:29 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 12, 2023 at 5:40 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After opposing bills to legalize recreational marijuana, Attorney General-Nominee Anne Lopez promised to lead the way to legalization during her confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Legislative supporters of legalization had been frustrated by Lopez’ resistance to legalization bills and challenged her during questioning.

State Sen. Joy San Buenaventura asked: “Is it going to be the Attorney General’s position to automatically oppose those bills?”

The answer was a surprise.

To the contrary, Lopez responded, she would become a leader to get legalization done right with an administration task force to develop legislation in time for next year’s session.

“To make sure that we can create a structure that will allow the state to have legal recreational marijuana with as few problems as other states on the mainland have experienced,” Lopez said.

It was welcome news to the medical dispensary system, which supports a carefully regulated recreational cannabis industry, according Noa Botanicals Founder Brian Goldstein.

“The fact that she is shifting and being more open minded and being willing not just to agree to be part of it, but to lead it is a breakthrough and I’m incredibly I’m glad to hear it,” Goldstein said.

Any new system would have to ensure survival of the dispensaries while controlling the potentially explosive growth of the recreational industry, a balancing act lawmakers say they have struggled to pull off without cooperation of the governor’s administration.

“We’re likely to make mistakes along the way,” said state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole.

“And that’s part of why it’s encouraging to have law enforcement, the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Health, you know, come to the table and help us work on something responsibly.”

House Health Chair Della Belatti agreed, even though the House was resisting legalization until the state showed it could manage a dual medical and recreational system.

“I applaud the Green Administration for really taking the bull by the horns,” Belatti said.

“The fact that the attorney general is the convener or will be the convener of this effort shows a ‘whole of government’ approach to this.” Lopez said in the end it will be the next legislature’s call to move ahead with what the task force proposes.

“We will present that to the legislature in advance of the next session so that you can see it and see how you want to use it,” she told senators.

The breakthrough moment was part of a successful hearing for Lopez.

Only one member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Republican, opposed her nomination Wednesday, ensuring almost certain approval by the full Senate for another key player in the governor’s team.