Kaua‘i County Council defers resolution against legalizing recreational marijuana

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Kaua‘i County Council Chair Mel Rapozo is taking a firm stance against a bill that aims to make recreational marijuana legal in Hawai‘i.  

At a Kaua‘i County Council meeting on Feb. 28, Rapozo introduced Resolution No. 2024-12, urging the state legislature to oppose Senate Bill 3335, a measure that, if passed and signed into law, would make recreational cannabis legal in the state effective Jan. 1, 2026. 

Rapozo specified his opposition was only to recreational marijuana, not to already legalized medical cannabis or hemp. 

SB 3335 states that recreational legalization has the potential to create economic benefits for the state, generate revenue from tax sales, reduce crime and help reduce the illicit market through state regulation.

However, Rapozo countered the bill’s claims and presented arguments for recreational marijuana causing negative impacts on public health and safety, youth, the tourism industry, and an increase in the illicit market.

“Legalization will fall short of its rosy promises,” Rapozo said.


He referenced multiple studies and anecdotal experiences, saying he has spoken with mental health workers and law enforcement organizations in states that have legalized the drug for recreational use. 

“They have all told me, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t do it. It’s going to change the complexion and the landscape of your community,’” he said. 

Rapozo referred to a Sept. 2023 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, titled The Economic Benefits and Social Costs of Legalizing Recreational Marijuana. 

He cited the study’s finding that states with legalized recreational marijuana have seen increases in substance use disorders, chronic homelessness, and arrests for both violent and property crimes. 

Rapozo also said regulation and taxes would cause cannabis prices to rise, which would counterintuitively lead to an explosion in the illicit market.


“This is played out across the nation from New York to California,” he said. 

According to Rapozo, revenue from marijuana sales accounted for only 0.78%, 1.77%, and 0.4% of the 2022-23 fiscal budgets for Colorado, Washington and California, respectively. 

“It’s a very small portion of the operating budget of the states, and it really was not what it was portrayed to be,” Rapozo said, adding that the small numbers are also a mirage because they don’t account for public health and safety costs. 

Legalizing the drug in Hawai‘i would also spike mental health issues, said Rapozo, who claimed tax revenues would ultimately go toward treating young people who “get addicted or wind up with schizophrenia.” 

“By doing this, we just add one more layer of burden on our mental health resources across the state,” Rapozo said. He emphasized that any economic benefits would not be outweighed by the social cost. 


“I look at the analogy of, you know, ‘Let’s legalize gambling. Or let’s legalize prostitution. So we can generate fees and taxes and all this money,” he said. 

Council members KipuKai Kuali‘i and Bernard Carvalho, Jr. shared similar perspectives, voting in support of Rapozo’s resolution. 

“I wouldn’t want to see a society in which we’re representing to (young people) that this is cool and fun and recreation,” said Kuali‘i, who noted marijuana is a gateway drug and can lead to addiction issues. 

Council member Addison Bulosan, who was firmly opposed to the resolution, then argued that marijuana is not an addictive substance. 

“It’s not (addictive). It’s proven. It’s one of the things that you can look up really clearly,” he said.

However, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control, people can become addicted to marijuana. The CDC states that 3 in 10 people who use marijuana may have some form of marijuana use disorder. 

Bulosan, who supports recreational marijuana legalization at both the state and federal levels, told the council members that adults are responsible enough to manage their use, as they already do with tobacco and alcohol. 

“We’ve been driven to believe and told that it’s the devil, and I really don’t think it is,” he said of cannabis.

Bulosan, as well as council members Ross Kagawa and Felicia Cowden, voted against the resolution. 

Cowden was the only undecided council member in attendance and remarked needing more time and information before formally taking a stance. She voted against the resolution to tie the vote 3-3 and defer the resolution for reconsideration on March 13. 

Council member Bill DeCosta did not vote due to absence from the meeting.

Senate Bill 3335 is making its way through the legislature, and recently passed two Senate Committees on Feb. 13 and Feb. 16. The bill is next scheduled to be heard by the Commerce and Consumer Protection and Ways and Means joint committee today, March 1.

Emma Grunwald

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