Bills that reform Hawaii’s marijuana laws are likely to gain traction in the state Legislature this year, bolstered by a change in House leadership and a new poll that reassures lawmakers of broad public support.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” says Pamela Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, whose lobbying arm, the Drug Policy Action Group (DPAG), is working with lawmakers to introduce five bills. Three bills seek reforms to the state’s medical cannabis law, one calls for decriminalizing adult personal use of marijuana and another legalizes it outright.
The Senate has approved similar bills in the past, but the measures always stalled out in the House, Lichty says. A more favorable climate is anticipated with Rep. Joe Souki serving as House Speaker because “he’s extremely supportive of all the things we’re talking about,” she says. Last Friday, Souki introduced a bill to legalize marijuana and allow cannabis stores and cultivation facilities.
DPAG and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii also teamed up to conduct a statewide survey that shows 81 percent of respondents support medical marijuana, and 78 percent favor a dispensary system. Though island lawmakers have previously balked, citing problems in other states, the bill is modeled on the new Massachusetts law, which has addressed flaws in other systems, Lichty says.
Of the 18 states that allow medical marijuana, only Hawaii does not have a dispensary system. As a result, Hawaii patients often must turn to the black market for supplies. “We think this is pretty unfair,” Lichty says.
Another bill will be introduced that increases the number of plants and dried material that a patient is allowed to possess, and allows caregivers to provide cannabis for five patients, as opposed to just one. A third bill would shift jurisdiction over the program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Public Health.
Attitudes toward decriminalization and legalization have also changed markedly since 2005, according to the survey, with a solid majority now favoring action to remove criminal penalties for adult personal use.
The groups also released an economic analysis conducted by David Nixon, associate professor at the University of Hawaii College of Social Sciences Public Policy Center, that showed the state and counties are now spending $12 million annually on marijuana enforcement–up from $8 million in 2005. An estimated $11.3 million could be garnered annually from legalization tax revenues.