Hawai'i State News

Department of the Attorney General lays out concerns over legalizing marijuana in report and draft bill to Hawai‘i lawmakers

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In its opposition to legalizing adult-use cannabis, the Department of the Attorney General submitted a report and 315-draft bill laying out its legal concerns and risks to public safety and health should the Hawai‘i State Legislature legalize marijuana.

The report and draft bill entitled “Relating to Cannabis” were prepared for and submitted to Sen. Joy A. San Buenaventura, chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services; Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection; and Rep. David A. Tarnas, chair of the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs.

“The Department of the Attorney General does not support the legalization of adult-use cannabis,” said Attorney General Anne Lopez. “We acknowledge that with changing public perception in recent years, the odds that the legislature may pass legislation legalizing adult-use cannabis have increased substantially. Given that the legislature could theoretically pass a bill as early as this year, it is my department’s duty to warn the legislature of the risks, while simultaneously providing a framework that includes robust public safety and public-health safeguards.”

Cannabis is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act and is illegal under federal law. Since 2012, however, 24 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis. In 2023, the Hawaiʻi Senate voted in favor of Senate Bill 669, which would legalize adult-use cannabis, with only three “no” votes registered.


The bill ultimately didn’t get past the House of Representatives.

As described in the report, the structure of the draft bill utilizes six “pillars” designed to address issues associated with the transition to a legal market and its continued success:

  • The enacting of the Hawaiʻi Cannabis Law, which is a legal safe harbor from state criminal prosecution concerning activities relating to cannabis for those who strictly comply with its provisions;
  • The creation of an independent body—the Hawaiʻi Cannabis Authority (Authority)—with the power to regulate all aspects of the cannabis plant (whether medical cannabis, adult-use cannabis, or hemp) following the Hawaiʻi Cannabis Law;
  • The continuing role of law enforcement agencies in addressing illegal cannabis operations not following the Hawaiʻi Cannabis Law, which poses threats to public order, public health, and those business operators who choose to operate in the legal market;
  • A vibrant, well-funded social equity program to be implemented by the Authority with the intent to bring greater economic opportunity to disadvantaged regions of our state and to help transition formerly illicit operators into the legal market;
  • A delayed effective date of 18 months for the legalization of adult-use cannabis and the first legal retail sales to allow the Authority, law enforcement, licensees, and the public to prepare; and
  • The implementation of extensive, well-funded public health protections, including public education campaigns about the new laws and the continuing risks to public health—especially to children—posed by cannabis, and financial assistance for public health services such as addiction and substance abuse treatment.

The report further guides the legislature regarding amendments that would be considered unacceptable to the department.


“The draft bill is not ‘the Department of the Attorney General’s cannabis bill,” Lopez said. “The draft bill was prepared to give the Legislature a legislative option to consider—a draft with public safety and public health protections embedded into its structure.

Should the legislature decide to legalize adult-use cannabis, the draft bill represents our best judgment about how to promote a legal market, minimize risks of societal harm, mitigate damage that does come to pass, avoid liability, and provide workable tools and substantial resources for law enforcement and public health officials to promote the public welfare.”

The Report Regarding the Final Draft Bill Entitled “Relating to Cannabis” can be found here. The draft bill can be found here.


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