Several key Hawaii lawmakers want to legalize marijuana in the Aloha State.
House Speaker Joseph Souki (D, Waihee-Waiehu-Wailuku) and House Majority Leader Scott Saiki introduced a bill to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people ages 21 years or older.
Nine lawmakers co-sponsored a similar bill in the state Senate.
The move comes in the wake of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington last year.
Despite his support for the initiative, Saiki (D, Downtown-Kakaako-McCully) said he doesn’t think there’s enough support for the bill in the House.
"I’m not holding my breath on whether this will pass or not," he said.
Even so, Saiki said he thinks it is important to discuss the issue, which he calls a matter of individual choice, because it has evolved over time.
The senators who sponsored the bill to legalize the drug say that doing so will decrease crime rates and help Hawaii’s economy.
They say legalizing the substance is "natural, logical and reasonable" given current scientific research and public opinion.
Opponents, including House Minority Leader Aaron Ling Johanson, say the senators have it wrong. They believe legalization might increase crime.
"I’d rather exercise more caution than have to worry about controlling the extra societal costs," Johanson (R, Fort Shafter-Moanalua Gardens-Aliamanu) said.
Saiki acknowledged that there are "significant public safety concerns" associated with his proposal that led him to add quantity limits and other regulations to the measure.
Johanson says there are mixed feelings toward legalization in the minority caucus.
Medical marijuana is legal in Hawaii. The Legislature has considered bills to legalize the substance for recreational use in the past and faced opposition from the law enforcement community.
Michelle Yu, spokeswoman for the Honolulu Police Department, said the department opposes legalizing marijuana. She says that the drug has a high potential for addiction and abuse.
Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro is also opposed to marijuana legalization.
The state Legislature will consider at least 18 bills related to marijuana this session.