Hawaiians May Beat Californians to Legalized Pot

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Hawaii moved to the forefront of national pot legalization efforts this month when Hawaii House Speaker Joseph Souki introduced a bill to legalize pot possession, and tax and regulate weed commerce.

While many activists roll their eyes at legislative action on weed, Rob Kampia, president of Marijuana Policy Project, the group that funded Colorado legalization, called Souki's move "huge" Saturday during a legalization conference in San Francisco. For one, Souki is the Hawaii house speaker, and two, he has had broad public support.

A wild Hawaiian orchid on Kauais rugged North Shore
  • David Downs
  • A wild Hawaiian orchid on Kauai's rugged North Shore

MPP said it's targeting Hawaii as well as three other state legislatures to legalize the herb in the run-up to the big kahuna — California legalization in 2016. "We hope that lawmakers at the very least discuss the issue," said Morgan Fox with MPP.

The advocacy group has unveiled legalization-via-legislature plans for Hawaii, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont — a sort of Northeastern salad with pineapple, if you will.

Hawaii's measure, House Bill 150, would allow users 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and grow a personal number of plants in a secure location. The bill passed its first reading, and now must got committee.

Hawaii has a huge, decades-old pot culture that includes President Obama's formative years in the "choom gang". But it's also struggled to allow safe access to medical marijuana since passing a bill in 2000. No dispensaries are allowed.

MPP says Hawaii pot legalization is a crime reduction, and tax generation measure that will divert scarce police resources to serious crimes.

The bill would authorize the state to license marijuana stores, gardens, kitchens, and labs. Public use, driving under the influence, and use by those under 21 would remain illegal.

A January QMark Research Poll funded by the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the ACLU showed support for legalization at 57 percent in Hawaii, 20 percent higher than the last poll conducted in 2005. About 78 percent of Hawaiians support a dispensary system for medical marijuana, and 69 percent think that jail time for marijuana offenses is inappropriate.

According to research from University of Hawaii professor David Nixon, Hawaiian pot possession arrests have increased 50 percent since 2004, and distribution arrests have almost doubled. Nixon found Hawaii’s marijuana laws disproportionately impact males under 25 and native Hawaiians.

Hawaii decriminalization could save more than $9 million per year in law enforcement costs, and taxing and regulating pot, could conservatively add $11 million in annual revenues.

Hawaii is also a lot smaller and manageable than California. The entire state of Hawaii has the population of San Diego. Activists say Golden State pot legalization would be equivalent to legalizing weed up and down the eastern seaboard, from Rhode Island to South Carolina.

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