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Bill that would legalize recreational marijuana passes Senate committee with reservations

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Senate Bill 3335 Draft 1 cleared its first hurdle after the Health and Human Services and Judiciary joint committee passed the measure with amendments following a public hearing.

Lawmakers listened to testimony Tuesday from a variety of groups ranging from state agencies, marijuana dispensaries to cannabis users. Those in opposition raised concerns ranging from normalizing marijuana use for keiki to increased dangers of impaired driving.

Those supportive of the measure testified the tax sales from marijuana would be substantial to the state. Decriminalizing cannabis would allow people full access without requiring a medical license and alleviate the justice system.

The Health and Human Services committee voted unanimously to move the measure forward with Vice Chair Henry Aquino and Sen. Maile Shimabukuro voting with reservations.

The Judiciary committee passed the measure by a 3-1 vote with Sen. Brandon Elefante voting no. Vice Chair Mike Gabbard was excused.

If passed into law, the measure would establish the Hawaiʻi Cannabis Authority and Cannabis Control Board within the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to regulate all aspects of the cannabis plant.


“The responsible thing to do to protect the community and kids is to regulate and double down,” said Big Island Grown CEO Jaclyn Moore.

The legislation would also establish taxes for adult-use cannabis sales.

If passed, the measure would become law beginning Jan. 1, 2026.

“At its core, this measure seeks to regulate Hawai‘i’s cannabis industry, establish safeguards for the community, and establish a new tax on adult-use sales of cannabis to generate revenue for the state,” Moore stated in written testimony. “As we know, cannabis use has been prevalent in Hawai‘i for decades but it has been dominated by unregulated/illicit sales. For too long, this issue has been ignored.”

Kaua‘i County Councilman Ross Kagawa voiced his support for SB 3335 testifying the measure is a tool that would benefit the counties in increasing revenue from the established taxes and will also create more business opportunities for local businesses. Additionally, local law enforcement agencies would be able to focus on other important issues.


Kaua‘i’s medical marijuana dispensary Green Aloha stood in support of the bill Tuesday. Casey Rothstein, CEO of the company testified saying lawmakers should reduce the $38 million up-front cost written into the measure to start the program.

“There is already on Kaua‘i a thriving adult-use marijuana market and it’s in the illicit market,” Rothstein said.

The Office of the Public Defender provided testimony in support of the measure saying the marijuana market already exists.

“The decriminalization and regulation of cannabis is far overdue,” public defender’s office stated in written testimony. “People use cannabis. Decades of rigorous prosecution, imprisonment, and forfeiture have not changed this simple fact.

“Police and prosecutors have aggressively gone after the cannabis users. Intrusive and extraordinary tactics have ranged from military-style operations involving helicopters patrolling the air above us to intrusive body cavity searches. Once in court, prosecutors have faithfully pursued them resulting in permanent criminal convictions, imprisonment and supervision, and asset forfeiture.”


While there was a lot of support for the measure from individuals, businesses and state agencies alike, there was also quite a bit of opposition.

Testifier Cal Chanel approached the committee saying he was speaking on behalf of his grandchildren.

“This is not going to be good for them. Already we can’t control illegal fireworks. We legalize this and market this, we’re opening a can of worms,” Chanel said, adding families will be destroyed.

“That’s a guarantee. It’s already happening. We cannot let this pass,” Chanel said.

One testifier said marijuana is not part of Hawaiian culture. It’s an invasive species.

Another testifier stated: “No one wants to live in a state full of potheads and drug dealers.”

Kaua‘i Police Department submitted testimony in opposition. Chief Todd Raybuck went before the committee and talked about the firsthand negative impact he witnessed during his career on the Las Vegas Police Department.

“In 2017, Nevada legalized the possession and commercial sales of marijuana, and I observed first-hand how crime flourished behind the cover of legalization,” Raybuck said. “Homicides related to an altercation over drugs increased 21% in 2017 compared to 2016. And marijuana was the cause of the altercation in 53% of those homicides. Fifty-eight percent of all drug-related murders in 2017 involved marijuana.”

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Kauai Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.
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