The attorney general of Hawaii says that her office will no longer oppose marijuana legalization—and, in fact, it will work with lawmakers and stakeholders to proactively help advance the reform.
Attorney General Anne Lopez (D), who was appointed by the governor in December but still needs to be confirmed for a full term by the Senate, was asked during a committee hearing on Wednesday whether it would be the department’s position to “automatically oppose” legalization bills, as it has historically done.
“We will not flat-out oppose it,” Lopez said during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which ultimately endorsed her nomination. “With respect to the policy, I do believe that is the legislature’s area to make those decisions.”
She then went on to make a surprising commitment to work with legislators to craft comprehensive reform legislation.
Specifically, Lopez said that her office would lead an administrative task force “between now and next legislative legislative session to develop a complete regulatory and law enforcement legislative package that you can attach to any bill if you’re planning to legalize marijuana.”
“We’re going to use the summer and our experience thus far—as well as the experience of other states—to make sure that we can create a structure that will allow the state to have legal recreational marijuana with as few problems as the other states on the mainland have experienced,” she said.
The official said that while the department would be “more than happy” to participate in a separate legalization working group that’s being proposed as part of a legislative resolution, she intends to start organizing a multi-agency effort, bringing together the state Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and law enforcement agencies “so that we have consensus that what we’re developing will be supported by the executive branch.”
“I’ve changed our position from opposition to ‘that train has left the station,’” Lopez said. “So let’s find a way to help you. Let’s give you those guardrails so that you can implement the law and the policy that you want.”
The Senate did pass an adult-use cannabis legalization bill last month, but it stalled out in the House for the year. Now lawmakers and advocates are shifting attention to 2024, which is also the timeline that the attorney general is eyeing.
The session hasn’t ended yet, so the bill won’t have to go back to the starting line in the Senate next year. This could also give on-the-fence House lawmakers more time to discuss and refine the legislation, as Speaker Scott Saiki (D) previously said he’d like to do over the summer.
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Legislators have worked to enact legalization in the Aloha State over several sessions. The reform was also approved in the Senate in 2021, but it similarly failed to proceed past a House committee by a key deadline.
Advocates struggled under former Democratic governor, Dave Ige, who has resisted legalization, in part because he said he was reluctant to pass something that conflicts with federal law. That’s despite the fact that Hawaii has a medical marijuana system that allows people to grow and sell cannabis in contravention of broad federal prohibition.
But now that Gov. Josh Green (D) has taken office, activists are feeling emboldened. He said in November that he’d sign a bill to legalize cannabis for adults and already has ideas about how tax revenue from marijuana sales could be utilized.
Meanwhile, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill on Tuesday to create an advisory council to look into possible regulations to provide access to federal “breakthrough therapies” like psilocybin and MDMA.
A representative of the health department said that he felt it would be a “more meaningful” step for lawmakers to simply legalize certain psychedelics to prepare for their potential federal approval as medicines.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
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