On Jan. 11, members from Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, and ACLU of Hawaii, spoke at a press conference held at the capitol in Honolulu. The meeting was prompted by Hawaii Rep. Jeanné Kapela to announce her cannabis legislation which will target criminal justice reform and other important considerations.
First up was DeVaughn Ward, MPP’s Senior Legislative Counsel, who started the conference by speaking about the importance of introducing successful legislation as soon as possible. “Marijuana prohibition has caused immeasurable harm to our communities, particularly communities of color,” said Ward. “Cannabis legalization is an opportunity to stop the harm to our residents and the waste of limited public safety resources.”
Next, Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii’s Nikos Leverenz described upcoming cannabis legislation as a “critical opportunity” for legislators to address the needs of those affected by the War on Drugs. “Hawaii’s cannabis policy should center the needs of those damaged by the continued criminalization of cannabis and draconian drug law enforcement,” said Leverenz. “At the same time, a properly regulated adult-use market will create many quality jobs and business opportunities across the state, including those related to cannabis tourism, craft cannabis, and cannabis science.”
He also noted that in his official statement to the press, he asked that if the red state of Missouri can legalize cannabis, what’s stopping Hawaii from moving forward. He explained that cannabis plants would thrive in Hawaii, especially if they brought in craft cannabis growers, the industry could contribute to a strong tourism sector for the state. “Hawaii has a rare opportunity this year to move forward and to protect public health and to create quality jobs and economic opportunity across the state, including our neighbor island communities,” he concluded.
George Cordero from ACLU Hawaii spoke on the inhumane conditions of confinement in overpopulated Hawaii prisons due to low-level cannabis convictions, and the long-term effects of having cannabis on a personal record. “Having a marijuana conviction on your record can make it extremely difficult to get employment, apply for a credit card, secure housing, for work the rest of your life,” Cordero said. “This is why clearing people’s marijuana convictions is a necessary condition to this legalization measure.”
Kapela took the stage. “We all know, and Hawaii’s people know, that it is high time to legalize recreational cannabis use for adults in Hawaii. This year we stand on the precipice of history,” she explained. “Following the recommendations of a task force devoted to addressing cannabis policy, we now have a roadmap for legalizing recreational cannabis in our islands,” Kapela said, referring to a report published by the Hawaii Department of Health cannabis task force in December 2022.
Kapela did not specify a timeline for when her bill would be proposed, but explained a few key points, including helping the state’s mass incarceration dilemma by issuing a mass expungement program. “Social equity. People. That is what forms the heart of our proposal,” she explained.
Previously in March 2021, the Hawaii Senate approved two cannabis reform bills that ultimately did not move forward.
Former Hawaii Gov. David Ige was not a stark supporter of cannabis legalization, and often stated his hesitancy because of its federally illegal status. However, he did allow a bill to be passed without his signature in January 2020, which decriminalized cannabis in the state.
However, newly elected Gov. Josh Green said in November 2022 that he would sign a legalization bill. “I think that people already have moved past that culturally as a concern,” Green said during a debate in October 2022. “But here’s what I would do. First of all, if marijuana is legalized, it should be very carefully monitored, and only done like cigarettes, or I’ve been very careful to regulate tobacco over the years. We should take the $30 to $40 million of taxes we would get from that and invest in the development and recreation of our mental healthcare system for the good of all.”