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Hawaii Moves to Legalize Cannabis and Psychedelic Therapy

By: Buz Deliere | February 17, 2023

Hawaii is making strides toward legalizing marijuana and exploring ways to use psychedelics for therapeutic benefits. On February 16th the Senate approved two bills that pave a path forward while additionally supporting research into psilocybin and MDMA - popular psychotropic substances with potential medicinal properties.

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a cannabis reform bill from Sen. Joy San Buenaventura (D) with unanimous support, demonstrating the rising tide of recognition around this critical issue just days after thoroughly examining reforms during their hearing.

The wheels of progress are in motion as the Hawaii State Senate voted to advance a marijuana legalization bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Lee (D). After an insightful meeting between both Health & Human Services and Commerce & Consumer Affairs committees, they cleared the legislation with two votes from one panel and three from another. Hopes for reform have never been brighter.

As state legislatures explore the possibility to legalize cannabis for recreational use, two bills have surfaced that aim to end prohibition and create a regulated marketplace for adults 21+ - but which will be successful in achieving reform remains up in the air.

Lee's ground-breaking proposal, SB 375, has recently been gaining traction among advocates for its explicit social equity provisions which aim to support those who have suffered from the consequences of prohibition. This is an important step in addressing systemic inequality and ensuring equal access to cannabis legalization opportunities.

Advocates of marijuana reform have voiced concerns that SB 669, a new bill in the state legislature, goes too far by favoring existing medical cannabis dispensaries over those that are most impacted by prohibition. Disappointment has been expressed as the legislation did not provide licensing support for people previously targeted due to their involvement with cannabis-related activities.

Activists are staying vigilant in the fight for marijuana legalization, and have their eyes on two bills that could shift the laws surrounding cannabis. While SB 669 may not meet every goal they hope to accomplish with legalization, this bill is more popular among a greater proportion of lawmakers – leaving them hopeful it will eventually pass into law.

After passing through the Senate Judiciary Committee, SB 699 has been amended to grant pathways for expungements of prior cannabis convictions. This pivotal shift in policy serves as a major step forward toward criminal justice reform that many advocates have long championed.

After a thorough examination, a set of revisions to marijuana legislation have been adopted. This new policy maintains its Schedule I classification as detailed by state statute, requires full tracking from seed to sale for all cannabis products regulated by the government, and makes clear that any penalties incurred are subject to applicable rules and regulations. Furthermore, it establishes that there is no smoking allowed in public places where tobacco use has already been prohibited.

In 2021, reform to legalize cannabis in Hawaii was making monumental progress as it passed through the Senate; however, hopes were dashed when the legislation failed to pass a key House committee deadline.

Gov. Dave Ige's staunch opposition to cannabis legalization has hindered local advocates' efforts, despite Hawaii having a medical marijuana system that allows people to produce and distribute the product in direct violation of federal law - an unusual situation indeed.

With the new administration's progressive cannabis policies, Hawaii activists are feeling more courageous than ever! Governor Josh Green (D) has publicly declared his support for legalizing recreational marijuana and plans to use any tax revenue generated from sales for meaningful purposes.

On the House side of the legislature, Rep. Adrian Tam's (D) proposed psychedelics-focused bill was passed with a remarkable consensus: it gained unanimous approval from members of the Health & Homelessness Committee on February 15th!

Seeking to understand the potential of psychedelics for mental health treatment, the new legislation would establish a “beneficial treatments advisory council” tasked with analyzing existing regulations at both state and federal levels, as well as exploring current scientific research.

To ensure the proper use of psychedelic medicines by adults, a new advisory council has been formed to strategize and implement solutions for the availability of safe, accessible, and affordable resources. The plan focuses on therapeutic psilocybin products as well as those based on MDMA for individuals 21+ years old or older.

A new nine-member council in the state has been proposed to advise on matters concerning psychedelics, with a majority of members comprised of ex officio voting members and other appointees from pertinent backgrounds. The expertise among the appointed includes medicine, advocacy, and academia – making sure that all angles are considered when deciding how best to proceed with psychedelic regulations and policies.

Legislators have determined that mental health conditions may be addressed through a variety of treatments, including toxicological agents such as psilocybin and MDMA. The FDA has labeled both substances as “breakthrough therapies” meaning they could potentially offer faster relief from troubling disorders.

A recent research study has uncovered breakthroughs in the efficacy of natural and alternative medicines for treating afflictions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and end-of-life psychological distress. MDMA, psilocybin, and other therapies have been shown to be safe yet effective treatments with remarkable results.


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