HONOLULU, HI — A bill that would have legalized marijuana in Hawaii for adults 21 and over died at the State House on Tuesday when the chair of the House Judiciary Committee pulled the plug.
House Bill 699, The Personal Use of Marijuana Act, would have legalized the possession of up to an ounce or less of marijuana and the private cultivation of a limited number of cannabis plants for adults 21 years of age and older.
HB 699 would have also allowed for the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana, regulating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol by amending Chapter 329 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Karl Rhoads said he decided to defer the bill after learning from House leadership that the initiative may not have had enough votes to pass the House, although key lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled House, including the House Speaker Joseph Souki and majority leader Scott Saiki, supported the measure.
Rep. Derek Kawakami, one of the 11 cosponsors of the bill, said he was looking forward to having an open discussion on taxing and regulating marijuana in Hawaii until Rep. Karl Rhoads’ decision to defer the bill, even tough it had enough votes to pass the committee, effectively killed it for this session.
“I’m somewhat disappointed we weren’t able to have further discussion,” said Kawakami, adding that it’s still early in this year’s legislative session.
In the state Legislature, chairpersons of committees have a “tremendous amount of latitude” as far as what bills they decide to hear and what decisions are being made as far as deferring or amending bills, Kawakami said.
“We are dealing with almost 3,000 bills,” he added. “The chairs have to practice discretion as to what bills they want to hear; and if they do hear them, what bills they decide to move forward.”
Had the bill advanced beyond the House Judiciary Committee, it would have progressed to the Finance Committee for further study before advancing to the full House for a vote.
Recent polls suggest that Hawaii residents are increasingly in favor of ending cannabis prohibition, the most recent found that 57% of Hawaii voters believe marijuana should be regulated, taxed, and legal for adults.
Pamela Lichty, head of the Hawaii Drug Policy Action Group, says the organization is disappointed with the outcome but the fact that there were more than 20 marijuana-related bills were introduced this year is a sign of public support for the initiative.
A similar measure, House Bill 150, has not yet been acted on, but has also been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee and is likely to suffer the same fate. The primary difference between the two measures was the inclusion of a cannabis tax in HB 699.
Eyes now turn to New Hampshire, where hearings on marijuana legalization bills will be heard at the State House on Thursday.