Hawaii Bill Would Legalize Recreational Marijuana, Thwart Federal Prohibition in Practice

HONOLULU, Hawaii. (Mar. 1, 2017) – A bill introduced in the Hawaii Senate would legalize marijuana for recreational use. Passage would also take a big step toward thwarting federal cannabis prohibition in practice in the Aloha State.

Sen. Kalani English (D-East Maui), along with nine co-sponsors, introduced Senate Bill 548 (SB548) to accomplish the following:

"(1) Decriminalize and regulate small amounts of marijuana for personal use;
(2) Establish a licensing scheme for the cultivation, sale, and use of small amounts of marijuana for personal use;
(3) Tax marijuana sales in the same manner as state excise taxes; and
(4) Subject income derived from marijuana sales to state income taxes."

“I don’t think people were quite ready to move it forward in the past, mainly because other states hadn’t legalized it and the social policy wasn’t established in the U.S.,” Sen. English said in a KHON2 report. “Right now more than half the states have legalized or decriminalized some form of marijuana.”

SB548 would permit individuals 21-or-above to possess, grow, process or transport “not more than six marijuana plants, with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants, and possession of the marijuana produced by the plants on the premises where the plants are grown shall not be subject to criminal prosecution” as long as it takes place in an enclosed, locked location away from public view. Additionally, individuals would be able to sell or transfer up to one ounce of marijuana without prosecution.

Retail marijuana shops would be permitted as long as they are licensed and regulated by the state department of taxation. The medical marijuana laws currently on the books would stay intact, and wouldn’t be impacted whatsoever by SB548. Marijuana sold at licensed establishments would be subject to income and excise taxes under the legislation as well.

If SB548 is successful during next year’s legislative session, Hawaii would be the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature rather than the ballot initiative process. Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as SB548 remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.

LEGALITY

The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970 prohibits all of this behavior. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

Legalization of marijuana in Hawaii would remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, Hawaii essentially sweeps away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

Hawaii could join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and blocking it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states earlier this month.

With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats," policy analyst Michael Boldin said.

WHAT’S NEXT?

SB548 will need to pass the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health before it can be considered by the full Senate. Stay in touch with our Tenther Blog and our Tracking and Action Center for the latest updates.