The Hawaii legislature has approved a resolution calling on the governor to create a clemency program for people with prior marijuana convictions on their records.
The concurrent resolution from Rep. Jeanné Kapela (D) first passed the House earlier this month, sending it to the Senate where members adopted the measure on Monday.
It states that “the war on drugs has been found to be destructive and devastating to immigrant, indigenous, and low-income individuals, families, and communities,” and “the prosecution of cannabis offenses has deprived people of accessing higher education, housing, employment, individual liberty, and the right to vote.”
Further, the resolution notes that President Joe Biden issued a mass pardon last year for people who’ve committed federal cannabis possession offenses. And it says several states that have legalized marijuana have included provisions providing for expungements of prior cannabis convictions.
Gov. Josh Green (D) is being encouraged to work with The Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and Hawaii Innocence Project, advocacy groups that are “prepared to assist the Governor and Attorney General in facilitating a clemency program for people who have been prosecuted for cannabis related offenses.”
“Be It Resolved by the House of Representatives of the Thirty-second Legislature of the State of Hawaii, Regular Session of 2023, the Senate concurring, that the Governor is urged to initiate a clemency program for individuals who have been prosecuted for cannabis-related offenses,” the nonbinding measure says.
While many advocates would have liked to see a comprehensive bill to legalize cannabis enacted this year, a reform measure that passed the Senate last month ultimately stalled out in the House. Lawmakers are now shifting their attention to 2024.
The two-year session hasn’t ended yet, so the bill won’t have to go back to the starting line in the Senate next year. The delay could also give on-the-fence House lawmakers more time to discuss and refine the legislation, as Speaker Scott Saiki (D) previously said he’d like to do over the summer.
“Over the course of last year and throughout this legislative session, we’ve worked with members of the legislature to ensure that any cannabis legalization proposal includes retroactive relief for those criminalized by prohibition,” LPP Senior Policy Associate Frank Stiefel told Marijuana Moment. “We were obviously disheartened to see that the legalization proposal (Senate Bill 669), which had the most traction this session and included retroactive relief mechanisms, did not even receive a hearing in the House.”
“However, Governor Green still has the ability to create a pathway to relief for individuals whose continued incarceration is no longer in the interests of justice,” he said. “The establishment of a dedicated cannabis clemency program would be a crucial first step in addressing the harm caused by decades of failed drug policies. We hope that this resolution will spark some action by Governor Green and we look forward to supporting his office as they roll out a cannabis clemency program.”
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Meanwhile, the attorney general of Hawaii said this month that her office will no longer oppose marijuana legalization—and, in fact, it will work with lawmakers and stakeholders to proactively help advance the reform.
Specifically, Attorney General Anne Lopez (D) said that her office would lead an administrative task force “between now and next legislative legislative session to develop a complete regulatory and law enforcement legislative package that you can attach to any bill if you’re planning to legalize marijuana.”
Legislators have worked to enact legalization in the Aloha State over several sessions. The reform was also approved in the Senate in 2021, but it similarly failed to proceed past a House committee by a key deadline.
Advocates struggled under former Democratic governor, Dave Ige, who has resisted legalization, in part because he said he was reluctant to pass something that conflicts with federal law. That’s despite the fact that Hawaii has a medical marijuana system that allows people to grow and sell cannabis in contravention of broad federal prohibition.
But now that Green has taken office, activists are feeling emboldened. He said in November that he’d sign a bill to legalize cannabis for adults and already has ideas about how tax revenue from marijuana sales could be utilized.
Meanwhile, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill this month to create an advisory council to look into possible regulations to provide access to federal “breakthrough therapies” like psilocybin and MDMA.
A representative of the health department said that he felt it would be a “more meaningful” step for lawmakers to simply legalize certain psychedelics to prepare for their potential federal approval as medicines.
In other resolution news, the Nevada assembly approved a measure on Monday that urges Congress to legalize marijuana, sending it to the state Senate.
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