Does Recreational Cannabis Make Sense For Hawai‘i?


Dan Ahuna, Vice Chair, Trustee, Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihauLast month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (appointed by Donald Trump) rescinded an Obama administration policy directing federal prosecutors to NOT prosecute marijuana/cannabis businesses, such as dispensaries, in states that had legalized cannabis. Essentially, the Trump administration has opened the door for a crackdown on cannabis businesses, even in states that have legalized recreational cannabis sales.

This action is the latest in a long line of actions taken by the Trump administration to rollback Obamāera policies that are actually helping people in many ways.

In Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational cannabis, tax revenues generated from cannabis sales between 2014 and May 31, 2017 totaled $506 million. Reports show that 51 percent of those revenues have been used for K-12 education. Another 25 percent of those revenues are applied to substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.

Washington, Alaska, and Nevada were next states in line to legalize recreational cannabis. In 2016 alone, Washington generated $256 million in tax revenue. California, Maine, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational cannabis as well.

Why is the Trump administration interfering with states’ ability to generate tax revenue used to provide much needed services? One likely answer is legalized cannabis will reduce the number of people jailed (largely minority populations) and sent to serve out their sentences in private prisons. That reduction in the number of prisoners means less money for private prison corporations such as Correction Corporations of America, who is also a large Trump donor.

What does this mean for Hawai‘i? Last year, our legalized medical marijuana law became official and medical marijuana dispensaries have opened their doors. Many feel, and I strongly agree with them, that Hawai‘i should take the next step and legalize recreational cannabis. But will Trump’s actions derail our current medical marijuana law and the revenue generating potential that comes with this industry? My answer is NO.

Considering the fact that we just endured the most frightening 38 minutes of many of our lives in large part because of the reckless behavior of President Trump in antagonizing international foes, I feel Hawai‘i is perfectly positioned to completely push back against the policies of the Trump administration, starting with this one regarding cannabis.

The action taken by Trump and Sessions amounts to a threat that they will crackdown on the cannabis industry. Rather than let his threat impede the progress that many states are making, including ours, in developing an industry that can benefit so many, we should use it as fuel to double down on our efforts. We need to develop a comprehensive plan that will lay a roadmap for how the cannabis industry can be used to benefit our residents.

Where does the Hawaiian community and OHA fit in? My answer is that we should be leading the way! Cannabis is a perfect fit for our economy. Many of our rural communities in Hawai‘i have very high Native Hawaiian populations and these are fertile grounds, both literally and figuratively, for agricultural development such as cannabis. Ideally, we should be working on developing recreational cannabis policy that will provide economic opportunity that can simultaneously incubate a growing food production industry in Hawai‘i.

The opportunities are endless. Business opportunities for Hawaiian entrepreneurs, tax revenue that can be applied to education, addressing mental health and homelessness issues, and increase the production of food! What are we waiting for?

Our Native Hawaiian community needs to be empowered to be the driving force on crafting this policy and ensuring that the opportunities that come with it reach our community. Imua Cannabis!