Will Hawaii legalize weed? The fight for Recreational Marijuana is complicated

Will Hawaii legalize weed? The fight for Recreational Marijuana is complicated

Hawaii Senate Approves Recreational Marijuana Bill Amidst Strong Opposition.

Hawaii’s state senate recently made headlines after overwhelmingly approving a bill to legalize recreational marijuana by 2026, but its passage into law is far from certain, given the state’s complicated history with cannabis.

The bill is opposed by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, including Honolulu Prosecutor Steve Alm (D), Hawaii Attorney General Anne E. Lopez (D), and former Republican Governor Linda Lingle (R). They’re concerned about an overall increase in youth consumption, addiction rates, and the potential boost to Hawaii’s black market.

According to Colin Moore, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii, the state’s anti-recreational marijuana coalition has been “a little more organized than they’ve been in the past.”

“Expanded decriminalization of marijuana may increase recreational use in a way similar to legalization,” Lopez’s office wrote in submitted testimony related to the bill. “However, decriminalized marijuana is unregulated, untested, and untaxed. This lack of regulation and testing creates a significant public health concern, particularly as marijuana use increases.”

Local law enforcement officials have also raised alarms about the potential ramifications of legalization, expressing concerns about impaired driving and the impact on public safety. Moreover, the state’s economic reliance on tourism, particularly from Japan, raises questions about how legalization could affect visitor perceptions and industry dynamics.

“Hawaii is the only Pacific state without recreational marijuana. The social conservatism here is something that is often lost, and I think that is something driving the fact that this fails year after year after year,” Moore said. “And I think that people who are opposed are, I mean, this for them can be a voting issue.”

The Aloha State was the first in the U.S. to legalize medical marijuana in 2000 and decriminalize personal use in 2019; efforts to legalize recreational cannabis have repeatedly stalled in the state house. This pattern underscores the deep-rooted divisions within Hawaii’s political establishment, where even a Democratic majority does not guarantee support for progressive legalization.

Despite these challenges, the bill still has a number of fans in the state legislature, who remain steadfast in their belief that legalization is long overdue. Advocates argue that regulation and taxation of marijuana would promote public health, reduce criminalization, and generate revenue for the state at a time when it desperately needs it. Hawaii’s tourism-driven economy continues to suffer nearly eight months after wildfires decimated Lahaina in August.

“The decriminalization of cannabis is far overdue. People use cannabis. Decades of rigorous prosecution, imprisonment, and forfeiture have not changed this simple fact,” State Sen. Karl Rhoads (D) wrote in submitted testimony related to the bill. 

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green (D), a licensed physician, said he will sign the bill into law if the House passes it. He recently told Hawaii News that marijuana could have beneficial side effects in mitigating the impact of other drugs. 

“I have some thoughts that marijuana might blunt the effect, if you will, of people on these heavy drugs, these horrible drugs,” Green said. “It is a relative sedative. People are far less violent. They are much hungrier, but they, aside from snacking and stealing Cheetos, will probably do less harm.”

A poll conducted by the non-profit advocacy firm Pacific Resource Partnership found that 58% of Hawaii residents support legalizing recreational marijuana. A slight majority that Moore said is “noteworthy” but “significantly lower” than similar polls in other West Coast and blue states.

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Region: Hawaii

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