Hawaii, Delaware adult-use marijuana legalization outlook rosy after Oklahoma failure

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After witnessing a blowout loss in Oklahoma on Tuesday, advocates of adult-use marijuana legalization are turning their attention to brighter prospects in Hawaii and Delaware.

Legalization bills are marching through legislatures in both states, with support from the governor in Hawaii and a veto-proof legislative majority in Delaware, where lawmakers in the state House on Thursday advanced an adult-use legalization bill for the first time.

However, observers cautioned final passage isn’t assured in either state.

The two relatively small states could deliver welcome wins in a year when federal reform appears blocked in Congress and progress in bigger states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania is still uncertain.

However, political roadblocks in both states could push adult-use legalization to 2024.

Both Hawaii and Delaware have Democratic trifectas, where Democrats control the governorships and both chambers of the legislatures.

The same political alignment exists in Minnesota, where an adult-use legalization bill is marching through the Legislature, though reluctant conservative Democrats in the state Senate still need some convincing, advocates admit.

Wins in the relatively small, reliably blue states of Delaware and Hawaii might not have the same impact as a legalization victory would have had in a conservative state such as Oklahoma.

Oklahoma voters soundly rejected recreational legalization on Tuesday.

National observers agree that more legal states with Republican representation in Congress puts pressure on federal lawmakers to advance major reform such as rescheduling.

Where marijuana is legal in the United States

Still, legislative successes in Delaware and Hawaii would bring to 23 the number of states that have approved recreational marijuana legalization in some form.

And it would represent a maturation of legalization as a serious issue among state lawmakers.

Most of the 29 states that have yet to legalize do not have the voter-initiative process, the technique used to legalize in the first wave of West Coast and Mountain States.

Hawaii gov a 'yes' vote

In Hawaii, legalization has support from Gov. Josh Green, a Democrat.

On the gubernatorial campaign trail in October, when he was Hawaii’s lieutenant governor, Green said during a debate that if he were elected and the state’s Democratic Party-controlled Legislature sent him an adult-use legalization bill, he’d sign it into law.

Green might have that opportunity.

But the decision for now is up to reluctant lawmakers in the state House after an adult-use bill passed the Hawaii Senate on Tuesday by a 22-3 vote.

If approved, Senate Bill 669 would:

  • Set up a state authority to oversee an adult-use industry.
  • Allow adults 21 and older to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants.
  • Expunge certain marijuana-related offenses.

Existing medical licensees would be able to convert to adult use.

The bill now is headed to the state House, where “we believe the votes are there to pass if the bill is called,” Karen O’Keefe, Marijuana Policy Project’s state director, told MJBizDaily.

O'Keefe's confidence comes despite the failure of earlier efforts and reluctance from House Speaker Scott Saiki.

Saiki recently said he’d prefer if Hawaii lawmakers studied the issue over the summer instead of taking quick action.

The current proposal has some small-business friendly provisions, including a cap on cultivation licenses of 5,000 square feet, and limiting individual licensees to no more than two retail outlets.

That might satisfy some critics who say that limited-license markets with strict caps thwart the social justice aims of legalization.

Delaware gov a past 'no' vote

In Delaware, where Gov. John Carney vetoed an adult-use legalization bill last May, state House lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill that would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, The (Wilmington) News Journal reported.

House Bill 1 passed on a 28-13 vote. Twenty-five votes are needed in the state House to override a governor’s veto.

That bill now heads to the Delaware Senate.

A companion measure, HB 2, which would set up a framework for commercial sales, on Thursday passed the state House in another decisive vote, 27-13 with one abstention.

If passed in the state Senate and signed into law by Carney, HB 2 as currently written would set a $5,000 application fee for marijuana entrepreneurs.

Applicants would then submit their applications to receive a "score." A state cannabis commissioner would use that to determine whether to issue a license.

Edibles and smokable flower would both be allowed.

Localities would have the option to ban commercial marijuana activity.

That vote requires a three-fifths majority to pass, the News Journal reported.

“It’s encouraging to see these bills advance through the Legislature with supermajority support," said Olivia Naugle, a senior MPP policy analyst.

“We’re hopeful this will be the year Delaware legalizes cannabis, either if the governor doesn’t stand in the way or if a veto is overridden,” MPP’s O’Keefe added.

Whether Delaware lawmakers would have the appetite to defy Carney remains to be seen.

Last year, when Carney vetoed legalization, several lawmakers who supported legalization declined to challenge the governor, the News Journal noted.

Chris Roberts can be reached at chris.roberts@mjbizdaily.com.