Hawaii attorney general issues clear roadmap for legalizing recreational marijuana

Right now in Hawaii, the only way to buy marijuana legally is from a medical cannabis dispensary.
Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 4:32 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 18, 2023 at 9:13 AM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a breakthrough for recreational marijuana use in Hawaii, Attorney General Anne Lopez has proposed a comprehensive plan designed to overcome hurdles that have blocked legalization for years.

Right now in Hawaii, the only way to buy marijuana legally is from a medical cannabis dispensary.

The attorney general’s plan would encourage the development of a retail recreational marijuana industry while still protecting the medical dispensaries.

Key lawmakers, like House Judiciary Chair David, are impressed with the effort.

“The attorney general has done a really good job pulling together all of the different input and providing a comprehensive bill,” Tarnas said.

In prior years, including in the last legislative session, the Attorney General’s office either opposed legalization or raised many doubts about public safety, threats to young people and conflicting laws.

But lawmakers challenged Lopez to embrace the issue during her confirmation.

RELATED COVERAGE: Controversial medical marijuana farm raided, thousands of plants seized

Lopez’ 294-page proposal includes a 10% tax surcharge on top of the 4.25% excise tax on adult use marijuana, offers currently Illegal growers a path to joining the legal industry while beefing up law enforcement and bolsters health education programs to protect young people.

State Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, Consumer Protection chair, called the plan “the best version to date. And part of it is the efforts to try and address a lot of the issues that came up along the way.”

The program closely follows the Massachusetts model, which pioneered what’s called a social equity program — offering grants and support to illegal growers to help them adopt a traditional retail model and deal with regulation and taxation.

“The most important thing we can do is we can bring the people who have been growing and selling marijuana illegally into the legal market,” Lopez said.

If the dealers don’t go straight, they face a specialized 14-member law enforcement unit.

“It’s going to be a concerted investigative process to ensure that the law is followed,” Lopez said.

The reform proposal comes with its own bureaucracy.

The Hawaii Cannabis Authority would regulate the businesses and a product testing program and enforcement, social equity and health education programs would each have their own staff.

To protect dispensaries, medical cannabis products would be exempt from the 10% tax.

The dispensaries would also most likely be the first to sell recreational pot because they have already passed through the state licensing process.

“They’re already standing up, they’re already growing, they are already prepared to go to market,” said Lopez, who is proposing that sales begin 18 months after the plan becomes law, a period lawmakers considered reasonable and necessary.

Although it may seem like a long time, because the plan is so comprehensive, it may speed up the process of getting approval in the first place.

Keaohokalole said he hopes the legislation could be approved at the upcoming session, which begins in January. Tarnas, however, said that might be difficult within a session that will be dominated by responding to the Maui wildfire disaster and budget challenges.