Hawaii Advances Bills to Legalize Cannabis, Explore Psychedelic Therapy

    A pair of bills to legalize marijuana were approved in Hawaii Senate committees on February 16, and a House panel has separately advanced legislation to promote research into psilocybin and MDMA.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee took up one of the cannabis bills, from Sen. Joy San Buenaventura (D), passing it in a 3-0 vote just days after taking testimony on the reform during a hearing.

    Meanwhile, a joint meeting of the Senate Health & Human Services and Commerce & Consumer Affairs committees cleared a separate marijuana legalization bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Lee (D). The former panel voted 2-1, while the latter voted 3-1.

    Advocates have generally favored Lee’s proposal, SB 375, because it includes several explicit social equity provisions.

    Both measures seek to end prohibition and create a system of regulated cannabis commerce for adults 21 and older, but the question remains as to which might ultimately serve as the vehicle for the reform this session.

    Advocates have generally favored Lee’s proposal, SB 375, because it includes several explicit social equity provisions meant to support communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

    There are also some who are concerned that the other legislation, SB 669, goes too far in prioritizing the state’s existing medical cannabis dispensaries. Additionally, advocates are disappointed to see that licensing priorities for people most impacted by prohibition were not incorporated, for example.

    At the same time, activists are committed to enacting legalization one way or the other, and so they’re closely tracking both measures. SB 669 might not cover all of the ground that they’d hope for, but it may ultimately prove to be more palatable among a greater number of lawmakers.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB 699 after adopting a number of amendments, including one key change to add provisions creating a pathway for expungements for prior cannabis convictions.

    Other adopted revisions, according to a description from the chair—including those recommended by the state attorney general’s office and health department—would maintain the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug under state statute; require seed-to-sale tracking of cannabis products by regulators; clarify that regulators can promulgate rules related to penalties for marijuana licensees; and ensure that marijuana cannot be smoked in any place where tobacco smoking is prohibited.


    Here are some of the main components of SB 669, as introduced:

    * 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 to 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.

    * Marijuana vaping products would be prohibited under the legislation.


    For the other legalization bill from Lee, members of the joint committees adopted an amendment on effective dates requiring regulators to establish rules for licensing, fees, testing and taxation by December 1, 2024. Licenses would need to start being issued by March 31, 2025.

    The revision also clarifies that prior cannabis convictions for possession of up to 4 ounces must be automatically expunged, and additionally includes appropriations for the health department.


    Here are the key provisions of SB 375, as introduced:

    * Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to 4 ounces of cannabis and grow up to 10 plants in a locked area.

    * People could buy a maximum of 4 ounces from licensed retailers every 15 days, and adults could gift cannabis without remuneration.

    * The state attorney general would need to identify cannabis cases that are eligible for expungement by December 31, 2025 and issue automatic expungements no later than January 1, 2026.

    * Landlords could not ban possession or consumption of non-inhaled cannabis, with limited exceptions.

    * A nine-member Hawaii Cannabis Authority would be established, with appointments made by the governor and legislative leaders. The body would be responsible for promulgating rules for the adult-use program and issuing marijuana business licenses.

    * Existing medical cannabis dispensaries could start applying for dual licenses to serve adult consumers starting January 1, 2024, and those dispensaries would have a three-year exclusivity period.

    * Businesses that don’t currently have a licensed dispensary could apply for adult-use cultivator and distributor licenses starting January 1, 2024.

    * Fees and fines would go to a “Cannabis Authority Special Fund” that would cover the administrative costs of implementing the program.

    * Regulators would be tasked with creating grant, loan and technical assistance programs to support social equity applicants who’ve been disproportionately harmed by the drug war.

    * Social equity applicants would have 50 percent of their license fees waived, for owners who had less than $750,000 in income the prior year.

    * The state’s medical cannabis law would be amended to allow out-of-state patients to access dispensaries.

    * The sales tax on cannabis would gradually increase from 5 percent in 2024 to 15 percent in 2028.

    * Marijuana businesses would be permitted to deduct business expenses at the state level.

    * Medical cannabis sales would not be subject to a general excise tax.

    * Local counties could not prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their jurisdiction.

    * Delivery services would be prohibited.

    * Marijuana businesses could establish social consumption lounges.

    * The criminalized prohibition of marijuana “paraphernalia” would be lifted.

    * Smoking in public, or anywhere that bans tobacco smoking, would be prohibited.


    Past Legalization Efforts

    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.

    Now that Gov. Josh Green (D) has been sworn in, activists are feeling emboldened.

    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 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.


    Psilocybin and MDMA Therapy

    Meanwhile, on the House side of the legislature on February 15, lawmakers in the Health & Homelessness Committee approved a psychedelics-focused bill from Rep. Adrian Tam (D) in a 7-0 vote.

    A Senate companion from Lee was unanimously approved in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee the previous week.

    It would require the council to develop a “long-term strategic plan to ensure the availability of therapeutic psilocybin, psilocybin-based products, and [MDMA].”

    The legislation would create a “beneficial treatments advisory council” that would be responsible for 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 legislature finds that mental health conditions are treated in various ways, depending on the condition, and can include medication, therapy, and psychosocial services,” the bill text says, adding that psilocybin and MDMA have been designated as breakthrough therapies by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    “Research supports that the effectiveness of natural and alternative medicines and therapies, such as the use of MDMA, psilocybin, and other therapies, as being safe and effective ways to treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, end-of-life psychological distress, and other afflictions,” it continues.

    The health department submitted testimony saying that it considers the legislation “premature.”

    The committee adopted an amendment to allow ongoing conversations about technical changes with the Department of Health, “as to what they do with these kinds of breakthrough recommendations,” the chair said.

    The health department separately submitted testimony saying that it considers the legislation “premature,” and that it “recommends amendments that authorize the establishment” of the council only after the psychedelics are approved by FDA.

    There’s been significant interest in psychedelics policy in Hawaii this session, with a main focus on creating a research framework that could inform future legislation providing regulated access to the substances.

    Separately, the Senate Health & Human Services Committee recently passed different psychedelics reform legislation, backed by the governor’s office, to create a state working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin.

    The working group would be responsible for examining the “medicinal and therapeutic effects of psilocybin to treat conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and end-of-life psychological distress.”

    A House companion from Rep. Amy Perruso (D) was also discussed in a hearing before the Health & Homelessness Committee on February 15, but members did not act on it, and the chair suggested that the sponsor bring it back up as a concurrent resolution.

    Meanwhile, Sen. Stanley Chang (D) recently filed a Senate concurrent resolution that would similarly request a “Medicinal Psilocybin and Psilocin Working Group” to study local, state and federal laws on the entheogens, existing scientific literature on the therapeutic value of the fungi and possible the medical protocol for administering psilocybin.

    That resolution has been referred to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, but hasn’t yet been scheduled for a hearing.



    Photograph by Edmund Garman via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

    This story was originally published by Marijuana Moment, which tracks the politics and policy of cannabis and drugs. Follow Marijuana Moment on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for its newsletter.

    • Kyle is Marijuana Moment‘s Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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