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Bill to legalize cannabis in Hawaii passes state Senate committee

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A bill to legalize marijuana passed a significant legislative hurdle with a surprisingly quick approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

The committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 686 to legalize the possession of less than half an ounce of pakalolo for those over age 21 and subject the drug to a 15 percent surcharge on top of the general excise tax with sales starting in February 2021. Thirty percent of the surcharge would go to a public education campaign to warn people about driving under the influence of drugs and the risks of using marijuana in adolescence.

“This is an important step in the process, but it’s not the end,” said Sen. Karl Rhoads (D, Kalihi-Palama-Chinatown), chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Roz Baker, (D, South-West Maui), chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee, who helped pass bills to establish medical marijuana dispensaries in the islands, said legalization is a far stretch this year. The bill will need to be approved by her committee.

“I want to get the medical cannabis program utilized in many places and benefiting people. I’m not interested in recreational, I just don’t think it’s timely,” she said. “If everybody is going to be all nervous about the medical use of cannabis, you’re just going to get more and more people opposed to recreational use. There’s a lot of other issues that crop up when you deal with legislation to license it as a recreational activity.”

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