ANALYSIS: Weed…What Happens if it’s Made Legal?

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Move over, Willie Nelson. There’s a new pro-pot Sheriff in town.

Gray and balding, with oversized glasses and a grandfatherly demeanor, Hawaii State Rep. Joe Souki seems at first glance to be an unlikely protagonist in the rapidly unfolding story of America’s shift toward legalizing cannabis.

Recently elected as speaker of the state House of Representatives, Souki is set to play a high-profile role in the nation’s debate over pot.

The longtime Maui politician is co-sponsoring a bill with House Majority Leader Scott Saiki that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 years of age and older.

House Speaker Joe Souki. File photo by Wendy Osher.

House Speaker Joe Souki. File photo by Wendy Osher.

The effort comes at a pivotal moment in the debate over cannabis. Washington and Colorado recently approved the recreational use of pot, and pro-legalization activists expect similar measures to be introduced in more than 12 states this year.

With a recent poll showing 57% of Hawaii residents now supporting the legalization of marijuana, we were inspired to take a look at what would happen if HB 150 actually passes.


The first step obviously would be getting Gov. Abercrombie to autograph the bill, but given his past statements and voting record, it’s hard to imagine him not unfurling HB 150 with a smile. But as with any well-rolled legal document, it’s the contents that count.

Backyard Gardening

HB 150,” which has a joint effort in the Senate, would not only legalize the possession of small amounts of pot by individuals, it would also allow residents to grow their own plants.

But don’t assume you’ll be able to proudly display the jolly green giant on your front lawn. The bill states that plants must be grown “in an enclosed, locked space.” Apart from preventing the neighborhood kids from razing your garden, this provision could be an attempt to discourage the widespread farming-in-secret that occurs on state forest lands.

At the very least, it appears we’d be seeing a few more greenhouses in Hawaii.


The do-it-yourself aspect of the bill also extends to passing pot between pals. Feel like giving that “special someone” a unique Valentine? Under HB 150, persons over the age of 21 may provide small amounts of marijuana to others, assuming they don’t attempt to sell it.

So how many plants can a green-thumbed resident grow? That’s unclear at the moment, with that section of the bill left notably blank.

Pot for Profit

Home growers would be expected to keep plants under lock and key.

Home growers would be expected to keep plants under lock and key.

In an attempt to exterminate weed as a criminal enterprise and generate a little more paper for state coffers, HB 150 plants the seeds for a state-regulated commercial sales and distribution system. Licenses will presumably be handed out and revoked by the Department of Public Safety.

As to where you’d buy the stuff, the bill sanctions “licensed retail marijuana stores.” Shoppers would only need to furnish a valid ID, and operating rules would be similar in nature to liquor stores, with individual counties determining operating hours and the number of retailers allowed.


The bill aims to split the growing and selling of pot into different categories, handing out separate licenses for marijuana cultivation and retail sales. This in part allows the state to cash in twice on license fees, the prices of which have yet to be determined.

Separate licenses are also required for “marijuana product manufacturing facilities” (joint rollers and packaging operations, we presume.)

Most fascinating though is the mention of “marijuana testing facilities” where weed will be graded for safety and potency. Whether or not these testing facilities will have a resident “expert” sampling the products is unclear. We’ll keep you posted.

So Where do they Smoke it?

The law encourages people to stay close-to-home when partaking of this newly sanctioned pastime. Non-pot smokers worried about getting a contact-high at their favorite Starbucks can breathe easy, as the consumption of marijuana products won’t be allowed in public places.

It will be up to resort owners to decide whether pot will be allowed on-property under HB 150.

It will be up to resort owners to decide whether pot will be allowed on-property under HB 150.

But what about tourists? It appears visitors will be able to buy weed from one of our licensed vendors, although people looking to have the Amsterdam-like experience of toking up at a corner café might be disappointed.

The law expects everyone to play indoors, but allows owners of hotels, hostels and the like set their own policies about pot. Tourists hoping to sample some local bud will need to check in advance whether they can expect to go green at their resort of choice.

Interestingly, the authors of the new law don’t seem to care how people get high, allowing the sale of accessories related to “containing marijuana, or for ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing marijuana into the human body.”

That leaves quite a bit to the imagination.

Wait and See

Although Souki and Saiki are likely to catch most of the heat over HB 150, the bill appears to be the result of budding ideas at the 2012 Hawaii Democratic Party Convention, where a resolution was passed stating the party’s pro-legalization stance on marijuana.

Regardless, several Democratic lawmakers have since expressed skepticism over the bill’s chances in the House, and many Republicans are openly opposed to it.

The bill has passed its first reading and been sent to committee. We’ll have to wait until later this year to see whether the ideas packed into it actually catch fire at the state Legislature.

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