The Hawaii Senate has approved a bill to legalize marijuana, and two psychedelics research measures, ahead of a key legislative deadline. And the House separately passed a companion to one of those psychedelics proposals.
The Senate cannabis legalization bill, sponsored by Sen. Joy San Buenaventura (D), cleared the chamber in a 22-3 vote on Tuesday. Advocates are encouraged by the development, especially after a number of amendments were adopted in committee last week that tackled certain equity concerns with the bill as introduced.
Sen. Joy San Buenaventura (D), the bill’s sponsor, said on the floor that the measure “allows us to cut back on the illicit market by allowing free access for only one ounce for recreational use, and it allows for the dispensing of a safer form of marijuana for those who need to use it for [medical] reasons.”
But the proposal’s fate in the House is in question, with the speaker recently stating that he intends to see the issue workshopped over the summer so that lawmakers can develop a “comprehensive” reform proposal that addresses outstanding concerns.
Ahead of the vote, Senate President Ron Kouchi (D) said that while he’s personally not a “big fan” of the legislation, he recognized that it’s supported by a majority of the Senate caucus, and he correctly predicted its passage.
But House Speaker Scott Saiki (D) said in the same joint interview with Spotlight Hawaii that he’s communicated to committee leadership that he wants to “wait and take a look at this over the summer and come back with a bill that’s comprehensive and addresses the concerns that are always raised about marijuana use in Hawaii, including the federal restrictions and the law enforcement concerns.”
The Senate president, for his part, recognized that “it takes two houses to go forward, and if the House is going to want to have a deeper dive into it, at least the Senate will be handing over a version of what they think would be important in a bill.”
“If things change, then maybe it’ll be possible, with a vehicle alive, for something to happen in this session,” Kouchi said.
Meanwhile, the Senate also approved two psychedelics bills on Tuesday.
SB 1454 from Sen. Ron Kouchi (D) would establish a state working group to examine the medical and therapeutic effects of psilocybin. It passed unanimously on the consent calendar.
Sen. Chris Lee’s (D) separate SB 1531 would create a state advisory council tasked with exploring state and federal regulations on certain psychedelics, including psilocybin and MDMA, in addition to reviewing scientific literature related to using them for mental health treatment. Members also approved that bill unanimously on consent.
A House companion version to that bill, HB 1340 from Rep. Adrian Tam (D), advanced through its chamber as well on Tuesday.
Tuesday was the last in-session day for the House and Senate to pass legislation over to the other chamber before a crossover deadline on Thursday.
A competing marijuana legalization bill was scheduled for committee consideration last week, but it was ultimately set aside. But with the latest amendments to SB 669, activists who’ve worked for years to enact reform in the Aloha State are eager to keep the momentum going in the House.
Here are some of the main components of SB 669, as amended:
Adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and grow up to six plants, only three of which could be mature, for personal use. Adults could also gift marijuana between each other.
An independent Hawaii Cannabis Regulatory Authority would be established under the Department of Health to regulate the industry, as well as the existing medical marijuana program.
The market would initially launch through a pilot program whereby existing medical cannabis dispensaries would be able to obtain a dual license to serve both patients and adult consumers.
Marijuana products would be subject to a 10 percent tax, with revenue going to the state treasury. Cannabis businesses would also be able to deduct businesses expenses as part of the state income tax.
Under a substitute amendment that was adopted, a prior ban on cannabis vaping products was removed from the bill.
Language providing a pathway for expungements of certain prior marijuana convictions was added, much to the relief of activists who had criticized the omission of such provisions in the as-introduced version.
Civil penalties for unlicensed cannabis business activity were also added at the request of the state attorney general’s office. Also, lawmakers adopted a requested change to add a track-and-trace requirement for marijuana products.
To mitigate the risk of creating a monopolized industry, the bill as revised sets caps on the number of marijuana businesses that individual entities could own. There are also new limits on the size of licensed cultivation facilities.
Adults could not consume marijuana any place where tobacco use is prohibited in the state. Also, condominiums could restrict cannabis smoking in the same way that they’re able to do with tobacco.
Legislators have worked to enact legalization in the Aloha State over several sessions, but while the reform was approved in the Senate in 2021, it stalled after failing to proceed past a House committee by a key deadline.
“For years, advocates have been working to pass legislation to sensibly legalize cannabis in Hawaii,” DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel at the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Now that this bill has advanced out of the Senate, Hawaii is one step closer to becoming the next state to end cannabis prohibition.”
Advocates struggled under former Democratic governor, Dave Ige, who has resisted legalization, in part because he said he was reluctant to pass something that conflicts with federal law. That’s despite the fact that Hawaii has a medical marijuana system that allows people to grow and sell cannabis in contravention of broad federal prohibition.
But now that Gov. Josh Green (D) has been sworn in, activists are feeling emboldened. He said in November that he’d sign a bill to legalize cannabis for adults and already has ideas about how tax revenue from marijuana sales could be utilized.
Returning to the psychedelics legislation that advanced on Tuesday, here’s what Kouchi’s SB 1454 would do:
The legislation would direct a new therapeutic psilocybin working group to examine the “medicinal and therapeutic effects of psilocybin to treat conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and end-of-life psychological distress.”
Its members would also examine the effectiveness of such therapies in Oregon and Colorado, where medicinal psilocybin has been recently legalized.
They would also need to develop a long-term plan to “ensure the safe availability and accessibility of affordable, therapeutic psilocybin and psilocybin-based products for adults twenty-one years of age or older.”
The working group would be comprised of the state’s top health official or a designee, the state attorney general or a designee, leadership of relevant legislative standing committees, a physician, a psychiatrist and more.
Here are the details of SB 1531 and HB 1340:
An advisory council would be created, tasked with exploring state and federal regulations on certain psychedelics, in addition to reviewing scientific literature related to using them for mental health treatment.
It would also require the advisory council to develop a “long-term strategic plan to ensure the availability of therapeutic psilocybin, psilocybin-based products, and [MDMA] that are safe, accessible, and affordable for adults twenty—one years of age or older.”
The nine-member council would consist of five ex officio voting members—including the state attorney general and director of health—and four additional members with backgrounds in medicine, psychedelics advocacy and academia.
The advisory council would fall under the governor’s Office of Wellness and Resiliency (OWR). As introduced, it would have been under the state Department of Health, but that was amended in an earlier committee.
The various bills will next head to the opposite chambers for consideration.
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