Three Bills filed in Hawaii target marijuana legalization for 2024. These bills, all filed in January, take steps to end criminal penalties for marijuana possession among adults inside of the state. One bill legalizes the possession and sale of recreational marijuana for adults. Another bill proposes the same but would put the legalization up for a statewide vote. The third bill would decriminalize possession of marijuana among adults, but maintain civil fines for those caught with marijuana.

These bills are part of an effort by House Representative David Tarnas and Senator Jarrett Keohokalole, which in many ways grows out of the marijuana legalization efforts begun by Attorney General Anne Lopez last year. If the legalization bills were to pass, adults aged 21 or over would be legally allowed to possess as much as one ounce of marijuana, and up to five grams of cannabis concentrates. The bill would also permit the home cultivation of as many as six cannabis plants and the possession of as much as 10 ounces of marijuana harvested from homegrown plants. This legislation would go into effect on the first day of the year 2026.

One essential aspect of the bill is the creation of a new Hawaii Cannabis Authority. This new state agency would be in charge of regulating the marijuana industry and issuing licenses for cannabis-based businesses, which would include cannabis farms, cannabis processing facilities, and dispensaries or other retailers that carry cannabis products.

The bills would also create a state Cannabis Control Board, which would be made up of five appointed members as well as a leading executive director. The Board would oversee the new Hawaii Cannabis Authority. These bodies would work together to regulate the industry and collect a new 10% adult-use cannabis sales tax, which would be assessed in addition to the state’s 4% sales tax.

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The bills seem to have the support of state lawmakers, but it has attracted criticism from surprising sources. “Generally speaking, the bill provides a sound floorplan for adult-use legalization but erects a structure that is still far too punitive in its approach,” says Nikos Leverenz of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, who is among those criticizing some of the bill’s new penalties. “Placing a velvet glove of legalization on law enforcement’s iron hand is not what is called for.”

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the Marijuana Policy Project, typical advocates of cannabis reform, have raised objections to some elements of the legislation. According to some cannabis advocates, the bill should do more to expunge past marijuana convictions. The bills also make the possession of cannabis by minors a criminal offense, a decision that has drawn negative attention from some advocates.

“Legalization should mean fewer cannabis arrests, not more,” says Karen O’Keefe of the Marijuana Policy Project, pointing to specific rules that, “Impose jail time for innocuous behavior that harms no one, including driving long after impairment wears off and having a previously opened jar of edibles in the passenger area of a car.”

While marijuana legalization seems inevitable in the state of Hawaii, some believe that these bills could be a step backward when seen through a broader lens.