Progress made on Senate bill to legalize adult-use cannabis: Big Island Now

The Health and Human Services and Judiciary joint committee passed the measure with amendments following a public hearing, marking a significant step forward for Senate Bill 3335 Draft 1.

Lawmakers heard testimonies on Tuesday from a range of groups, including state agencies, marijuana dispensaries, and cannabis users. Those against the proposal expressed concerns about normalizing marijuana use for children and the potential increase in impaired driving risks.

Supporters of the measure argue that the tax revenues generated from marijuana sales would be significant for the state. By decriminalizing cannabis, individuals would have unrestricted access to it without the need for a medical license, and this would also help ease the burden on the justice system.

The measure was advanced by the five-member committee with a unanimous vote. Vice Chair Henry Aquino and Sen. Maile Shimabukuro voted with reservations.

The measure was passed by the Judiciary committee with a vote of 3-1, with Sen. Brandon Elefante being the sole dissenting vote. Vice Chair Mike Gabbard was excused from the vote.

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The measure, if approved, will establish the Hawaiʻi Cannabis Authority and Cannabis Control Board under the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Their primary responsibility will be to regulate all aspects of the cannabis plant.

According to Jaclyn Moore, the CEO of Big Island Grown, it is crucial to regulate and strengthen measures in order to protect the community and children.

The proposed bill also includes provisions for implementing taxes on the sale of cannabis for adult use.

The measure, if approved, will take effect on January 1, 2026.

“In written testimony, Moore explained that the main objective of this measure is to regulate the cannabis industry in Hawai‘i, while also implementing safeguards for the community and introducing a new tax on adult-use sales of cannabis to generate revenue for the state. Moore emphasized that cannabis use has been widespread in Hawai‘i for many years, but it has primarily been driven by unregulated and illicit sales. This issue has been neglected for far too long.”

The program and advisory board will receive $38 million in funding as allocated by the bill. However, some individuals who are in favor of the measure have suggested reducing the cost.

Michael Medeiros, a resident of Hilo, appeared in person to give testimony and also submitted written testimony in support of the bill.

“Cannabis has had a profound and positive impact on my life,” he expressed. “It provided me with an alternative to relying on opiates for pain relief, and even now, it continues to help me manage my regular pain. I strongly believe that every adult should have the freedom to choose whether or not they can use cannabis without facing any judgment or the threat of imprisonment.”

The Department of Health expresses significant concerns regarding the potential public health and environmental consequences associated with the increased accessibility of cannabis and the establishment of an adult-use marketplace, despite the stringent regulatory measures outlined in SB335 SD1.

The Department of Health expressed its belief that legalizing the adult use of cannabis would likely have a detrimental effect on public health. In their written testimony, they emphasized that while cannabis can offer medical benefits for specific conditions, patients already have access to these benefits through the medical cannabis program. Therefore, the Department of Health argued that recreational use of cannabis would not provide any additional medical benefits and would instead result in harm.

The Office of the Public Defender expressed its support for the measure, affirming that the marijuana market is already in existence.

“The public defender’s office emphasized in written testimony that the decriminalization and regulation of cannabis is long overdue. They pointed out that people use cannabis despite decades of strict prosecution, imprisonment, and asset forfeiture, indicating that these measures have not been effective in changing this reality.”

Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have taken a hardline approach towards individuals who use cannabis, employing invasive and extreme measures. These tactics have included conducting military-style operations that involve helicopters surveilling from above and resorting to intrusive body cavity searches. Once these individuals are brought to court, prosecutors have relentlessly pursued them, leading to long-lasting criminal records, imprisonment, probation, and even the seizure of their assets.

Although the measure received significant support from individuals, businesses, and state agencies, it also faced considerable opposition.

Cal Chanel, a testifier, addressed the committee and emphasized that he was representing his grandchildren.

Chanel expressed concern about the potential consequences of legalizing and marketing fireworks. She emphasized that the current challenge of controlling illegal fireworks would only be exacerbated by such a move. Chanel also pointed out that the legalization of fireworks could have severe implications, including the destruction of families.

“That’s a guarantee. It’s already happening. We can’t allow this to go unnoticed,” Chanel emphasized.

According to one witness, marijuana is not considered a part of the Hawaiian culture; it is seen as an invasive species.

A different individual shared their perspective, saying, “Living in a state filled with cannabis users and drug sellers is not desirable for anyone.”

Hawaii Island police presented written testimony that includes statistics from states where recreational marijuana is legal, demonstrating the impact it has had on traffic crashes and fatalities.

According to Chief Ben Moszkowicz’s written testimony, traffic fatalities in Colorado have increased by over 51% since 2013. He points out that this increase in statewide traffic fatalities is correlated with a rise in instances where the drivers involved tested positive for THC.

“The legalization of marijuana for adult personal use is not in the best interest of our state,” declared Hawai‘i Island Police Chief Ben Moszkowicz. He expressed concerns that the passage of this bill would have detrimental effects on various aspects of our society.

According to the statement, the implementation of this measure will place a significant strain on our law enforcement and first responder agencies. This is due to the anticipated rise in drug overdoses, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and incidents of impaired driving on our roads. These consequences will undoubtedly lead to a higher number of traffic-related injuries, including fatalities.

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