Senate Bill 767 – Recreational Cannabis

Picture of Cannabis plants

By: J. S.

Hawaii may become the 16th state to Senate legalize recreational cannabis use for those 21 and above. The Hawaii legislature is currently reviewing Senate Bill 767, related to cannabis legalization. The bill would allow those 21 years and older to buy, sell, and possess up to 30 grams legally. Cannabis would be fully decriminalized, and instead regulated to allow for the possession, purchase and sale of small amounts for personal use. The bill’s stated purpose is to “legalize the personal use, possession, and sale of cannabis in a specified quantity, require licensing to operate cannabis establishments, and subject cannabis establishments to excise taxes and income taxes.” Read the full bill here.

Cannabis has a long history as a classified drug in the United States and Hawaii. By the mid 1930’s, it was regulated as a drug in every state, including 35 states that adopted the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act, which was subsequently replaced in 1970 with the federal Uniform Controlled Substances Act. Under the federal Uniform Controlled Substances Act, marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, are classified as schedule I controlled substances. Source. Hawaii allows for some medical marijuana uses, and there has been talk in recent years of legalization for recreational use, especially since the citizens of other states such as Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the sale of recreational cannabis beginning in 2012 for persons 21 and over. Since that time 15 other states followed suit, including Oregon, Alaska, Maine, and Massachusetts, among others. Three US territories have also moved to legalize cannabis as of 2020.

Since Colorado legalized sale of marijuana in small amounts it has raised over $1.5 billion dollars in total revenue from associated income taxes and fees. In 2014, during the first year of legal sale, the state garnered over 67 million in revenue from taxes and fees. The income generated yearly from taxes is used for several different statewide purposes. According to the Colorado General Assembly, marijuana tax revenue is allocated to the General Fund.  From the General Fund, revenue from the marijuana retail sales tax and excise tax are distributed differently. Some funding is allocated to building public schools. Another portion of the revenue, called the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, is used for health care, health education, substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, and law enforcement.

The federal government has also signaled recently that it may move to decriminalize cannabis. According to SB 767, in addition to the majority of states that have decriminalized marijuana possession, the federal government has also signaled its approval of decriminalization at the federal level. On December 4, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, which removes cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances and facilitates cancelling low-level federal convictions and arrests related to cannabis. 

If the bill passes in Hawaii, private citizens would be able to not only purchase small amounts for personal use, but also cultivate a small number of the plants legally. Sale of cannabis would be subject to state income taxes. Facilities used to manufacture marijuana would also be regulated and taxed according to new state law. 

The bill was introduced on January 22 by Senator Lee, Senator English, and five other Senators. It was received from the Senate to the House on March 9 and is currently referred to several committees for review. Those interested in submitting testimony can do so on the capitol.hawaii.gov website by creating a free account and submitting either written or video testimony for or against the bill.