Maui News

Maui senators vote with majority in killing marijuana decriminalization bill

Listen to this Article
5 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

On Monday, the Hawaiʻi State Senate killed Senate Bill 2487, which would have decriminalized possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana. File photo

Maui County’s state Senate delegation was united Monday in voting with the majority of senators to kill a bill that would have decriminalized the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana.

Sen. Troy Hashimoto (Wailuku, Kahului, Waihe‘e, Waikapū Mauka, Waiehu) said: “I would rather have a structure to tax and regulate marijuana rather than pursuing decriminalization, which would allow an unchecked market and potentially unsafe products to exist within our community.”

He pointed out that, earlier this session, the Senate passed Senate Bill 3335, which would have set up a regulatory framework for the legalization of marijuana with numerous safeguards and with input from the Hawaiʻi Department of the Attorney General. However, that measure stalled in the House.

Now, Hashimoto said, “I think it is best that we go back to the drawing board and return next year on how we would like to appropriately handle the issue within our community.”

On Monday afternoon, Maui Now also reached out for comment from Maui County Sens. Lynn DeCoite (East Maui, Upcountry, Moloka‘i, Lāna‘i) and Angus McKelvey (West Maui, Mā‘alaea, Waikapū, South Maui). However, there was no response in time for initial publication of this post.


On Tuesday evening, McKelvey released a statement expressing “serious concerns” about the bill’s potential to undermine Hawaiʻi’s legal medical and recreational marijuana frameworks.

The senator said that research has shown that decriminalization in other states has led to various challenges, including a negative impact on the regulated markets that support medical and recreational use.

“These insights are grounded in the experiences of multiple jurisdictions where similar policies have resulted in increased unregulated use and a subsequent strain on legal operations aimed at ensuring safe and responsible use,” McKelvey said.

The intent behind regulating marijuana has been to “curb illegal activities and ensure safe, responsible use, especially for medical purposes,” he said. “SB2487 threatens to reverse these gains by complicating enforcement and diminishing the operational viability of legal dispensaries that adhere to strict health and safety standards.”

Also Monday, Drug Policy Forum of Hawaiʻi Board President Nikos Leverenz issued a statement, calling the Senate’s rejection of Senate Bill 2487 a “disappointment.” The vote was nine in favor and 15 opposed.


“While Hawaiʻi saw an uptick in legislative activity on cannabis decriminalization and adult-use cannabis legalization, the status quo remains,” Leverenz said. “Too many legislators this cycle have ceded to the histrionic arguments by many in the criminal legal lobby and others who want to ensure broad prohibition. Fifty-eight percent of Hawaiʻi residents support adult-use legalization, which now reaches over half of the population of America and employs over 440,000 across the nation. Decriminalization of cannabis possession and cannabis paraphernalia remains an important reform in its own right.”

The Hawaiʻi Department of the Attorney General submitted testimony in opposition to the bill, maintaining that “decriminalized marijuana is unregulated, untested, and untaxed.”

“This lack of regulation and testing creates a significant public health concern, particularly as marijuana use increases,” the department said. “Black market marijuana often contains pesticides, trace amounts of metals like lead and nickel, and other toxic chemicals. Regulated marijuana can be tested for these poisons, to increase the chances that the marijuana consumed by recreational users is relatively safe. Because there are no restrictions on the levels of pesticides and other toxins in black market marijuana, consumers risk inhaling or ingesting harmful substances.”

The AG department said there are other public health concerns with decriminalizing up to an ounce of marijuana. For example, there may be increased traffic accidents, hospitalizations and fatalities associated with marijuana use.

“Without regulation and taxation, the community may have to absorb the costs of the negative impacts of increased marijuana use,” the department said.


Support for the bill came from the State Office of the Public Defender, the Drug Policy Reform of Hawaiʻi, Last Prisoner Project and American Civil Liberties Union Hawaiʻi.

In its testimony, the ACLU said the bill would have reduced unreasonable arrests for cannabis possession in “our already bloated criminal justice system.”

“Arrest for possession of small amounts of cannabis, is one of the most common points of entry into the criminal justice system,” the ACLU said. “In 2019, the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, ACT 273, which decriminalized the possession of 3 grams or less and imposed a fine of $130. The current tiny threshold, while an improvement to past cannabis prohibition policies, continues to result in hundreds of individuals being arrested in Hawaiʻi each year and facing jail time for simple possession of cannabis.”

Leverenz of the Drug Policy Forum called opponents of decriminalization the “cannabis prohibitionists.” And he said they have yet to acknowledge the harms caused by prohibition.

Leverenz said: “Cannabis decriminalization still ensnares hundreds of persons per year in the criminal legal system, with a disproportionate impact on under resourced Native Hawaiian and Pasifika Communities. This includes children. From 2011-2020, 3,817 juveniles were arrested for cannabis possession across the state. Over that same time span, 7,457 adults were arrested.

“In contrast to ongoing legislative recalcitrance, Governor Josh Green has demonstrated intellectual candor and principled compassion when publicly discussing cannabis policy. Hopefully next year’s Legislature will produce a bona fide re-calibration of cannabis policy in Hawaiʻi. The federal government should also move with all due speed to remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act.”

Opposition to the bill came from the Honolulu Police Department and Steve Alm, Prosecuting Attorney of the City and County of Honolulu. Alm said any amendments to the current limits of marijuana possession would be “unacceptable.”

“Any amendments to the current limits of marijuana possession is unacceptable,” Alm said. “We now know that the marijuana of today is not the marijuana of the past, when marijuana had a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of about 3%. Today, marijuana stores sell marijuana with 20%-40% THC with extract concentrates over 90%. It is a different drug entirely. This bill would allow the possession of a much higher potency drug in greater amounts for non-medical use.”

Alm said the bill would increase the marijuana black market and “send the wrong message to our keiki that marijuana is harmless.” The measure also would lack “the so-called ‘guardrails’ contained in the larger marijuana legalization bill, SB 3335.”

“Do not ignore the science and the impact of marijuana use on brain development and on mental health,” Alm said.

Increased marijuana use results in a wide variety of negative consequences, including: a threat to the state’s visitor industry; children having greater access to larger amounts of marijuana; more traffic collisions and fatalities; increased mental health problems, including schizophrenia; environmental impacts; and more emergency room and hospital admissions, according to the prosecuting attorney.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version to include a statement submitted by Sen. Angus McKelvey.

Brian Perry
Brian Perry worked as a staff writer and editor at The Maui News from 1990 to 2018. Before that, he was a reporter at the Pacific Daily News in Agana, Guam. From 2019 to 2022, he was director of communications in the Office of the Mayor.
Read Full Bio

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Maui Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments