Big Island Polls

Poll results: Legalizing cannabis gets most individual votes for what bills Hawai‘i lawmakers should have passed but didn’t

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State legislators had a full slate during this year’s session of the Hawai‘i Legislature, which was mostly dominated by recovery efforts following last year’s devastating wildfires on Maui, one of which destroyed historic Lahaina and killed more than 100 people.

There also were inroads made this year on several other important issues, including coffee labeling regulations, dangerous dogs and marriage equality, among others.

However, several issues came up during the past 2 years that lawmakers decided to pass on or simply were unable to fully consider.

So we asked readers in our most recent monthly Big Island Now poll which of several bills the Hawai‘i Legislature should have passed in 2024 but didn’t, ranging from public funding for political candidates and a climate-impact fee for visitors to free school breakfast and lunch and the threat of the invasive rhinoceros coconut beetle.

The issue receiving the most individual votes has been perhaps one of the most talked about and debated of the year. One that still comes up in conversation.

The further relaxation of Hawai‘i marijuana laws.

Big Island Now stock photo

Senate Bills 3335 and 2487, relating to the legalization of recreational marijuana and expanding marijuana decriminalization, respectively, received 537 votes, or 43% of the total 1,236 cast.

While not a majority — with a combined 662 votes, or 54%, going to the other eight options to choose from — there was still a wide margin between the top two individual vote-getters and below.

Senate Bill 471, which would prohibit camping in public areas not designated for camping and require the state or counties to establish safe zones for homeless people, got 163 votes, or 13%. That’s a 374-vote gap between first and second place.

There were also 37 votes, or just 3%, for other measures not listed as choices; however, no comments were left as to what bills.

Senate Bill 3335 took the question of cannabis legalization to its furthest level yet in the Legislature, making it through the full Hawai‘i Senate and to the Finance Committee of the state House of Representatives, where it stalled and died after the panel’s chairman said it would not deliberate the measure.


Another cannabis-related measure, Senate Bill 2487, that would have expanded decriminalization of the drug almost made it, but failed to pass on final reading.

“Come on with the weed legalization already people, it’s 2024!” said Big Island Now user oceanviewcrazy in a comment on the poll story. “Then at least people will stop getting messed by fentanyl-laced street weed. Maybe legalization might reduce the severity of the hard drug problem too, if people could just smoke a freaking joint legally!”

That was the only comment Big Island Now received on the poll throughout all platforms. However, it’s not the only opinion that’s been expressed about the topic since it returned to the state Legislature’s docket this year.

One commenter on an April 2 Big Island Now post on Instagram called it complete bull crap, only using a stronger expletive for bovine excrement, after Rep. Kyle Yamashita killed SB3335 by deciding not to bring it before the House Finance Committee, which he chairs, for further deliberation.

Yamashita, who represents Upcountry Maui, which was also affected by last year’s wildfires on the Valley Isle, said his decision was based on numerous concerns expressed about the bill’s implementation, especially its cost.

An image from the Hawaiʻi Cannabis Awareness Conference in June 2019 at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo. (File photo by Crystal Richard)

He said now is just not the right time, especially as the state navigates the challenges of managing the largest wildfire recovery efforts in Hawai‘i’s history and must safeguard critical services for residents such as education, infrastructure and roads, among others.

“I’m pro-legalization but I didn’t support this bill,” commented shaughnessywill on the April 2 Instagram post. “I hate the fact that all the effort and money put into this bill is just instantly rendered moot because 1 person decides it doesn’t even deserve consideration. It’s shameful.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki agreed with Yamashita.

“In hearing the overwhelming testimony and serious concerns from members of Hawai‘i’s law enforcement industry, this bill requires further consideration of the impact legislation will have on our children, economy and overall well-being,” said Saiki at the time.

Another commenter on the April 2 Instagram post asked how long it would be before the state puts the issue of legalization into the hands of voters.

Big Island Now asked readers in January if they support the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state and 66% said cannabis should have been legalized years ago.

A survey in October 2022 by the Pew Research Center found an overwhelming 88% of U.S. adults think marijuana should be legal either for recreational and medicinal use or medicinal use only.

The survey followed President Joe Biden pardoning people convicted of federal marijuana possession crimes and telling his administration to review the classification of cannabis under federal law.

The Hawaiʻi state Capitol in Honolulu. (Big Island Now file photo by Nathan Christophel)

The U.S. Department of Justice on May 16 officially proposed reclassifying the drug from its current Schedule I status to a Schedule III drug, easing federal restrictions on cannabis if approved.

An August 2022 report from the Permitted Interaction Group Tax Working Group for the state Dual Use of Cannabis Task Force, which is under the Hawai‘i Department of Health Office of Medical Cannabis Control and Regulation, says the Hawai‘i cannabis market operates in a gray space.

A gray market is different from a black market because of higher levels of social acceptance and ambiguous legal treatment.

Certain sectors of Hawai‘i’s cannabis market, such as medical marijuana, are legal and highly regulated. Others are still illegal but tolerated and subject to little or no regulation.

“This has created a two-tiered market, where prices in the legal market are much higher than in the gray market,” says the report. “This incentivizes users to make their purchase in the illicit gray market. Hawai‘i currently tolerates a gray market worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The working group says in the same study that legalizing marijuana would generate between $34 million and $53 million in annual state tax revenue.

An economic assessment by the Hawai‘i Cannabis Industry Association estimated in February 2023 that legalization would add nearly $82 million a year to the state’s coffers.

Hawai‘i Gov. Josh Green supports full legalization for adult recreational use.

He said after the legalization measure failed this year that a possible solution to the issue would be to expand Hawai‘i’s existing medical cannabis system to allow people to register for any health concern instead of only specific conditions.

While the debate goes on, it doesn’t matter to some residents if marijuana is legal or not.

“We smokin either way,” commented brothernatureman in a reply to another comment on Big Island Now’s April 2 Instagram post, adding at the end an emoji of a person shrugging their shoulders.

Here are the full results from our most recent poll:

  • Senate Bills 3335 and 2487, relating to the legalization of recreation marijuana and expanding marijuana decriminalization, respectively: 537 (43%).
  • Senate Bill 471, which would prohibit camping in public areas not designated for camping and require the state or counties establish safe zones for homeless people: 163 (13%).
  • House Bill 540, relating to free breakfast and lunch for all enrolled students of the Hawai‘i Department of Education and public charter schools: 128 (10%).
  • Senate Bill 587, relating to the installation of noisy exhaust pipes and mufflers on a vehicle: 98 (7%).
  • House Bill 2406, which would have imposed a climate-impact fee for visitors staying in hotels or other transient vacation accommodations: 93 (7%).
  • House Bill 1149, relating to infestation control of coconut rhinoceros beetles: 80 (6%).
  • Senate Bill 2381, relating to public financing for candidates seeking election to state and county public offices: 39 (3%).
  • There is a different bill I was watching that should have passed instead: 37 (2%).
  • House Bill 79, relating to media literacy in schools and negative impacts of of misinformation, disinformation, digital discrimination and online hate speech: 31 (2%).
  • Senate Bill 281, which would have established a state income tax deduction for eligible contributions made to the state’s college savings program: 30 (2%).

Total votes: 1,236.

Watch for a new Big Island Now monthly poll starting May 27.

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