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Hawaii Expected to Legalize Marijuana

By Tony O'Neill 01/22/13

The Aloha State introduces a bill to legalize and regulate recreational weed.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii
since 2000.
Photo via

Hawaii, famed for beaches, beauty and surfing, might soon boast another weapon in its tourist arsenal: legal marijuana. Emboldened by recent legalization in Colorado and Washington, and by comments from President Obama that he has “bigger fish to fry” than busting pot smokers, Hawaii could be the next US state to permit recreational weed. Last Friday, Hawaii House Speaker Joseph Souki introduced a bill to legalize marijuana possession for over-21s, creating a system of taxed, regulated sales. House Bill 150 would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of grass and grow an as-yet-unspecified number of plants. Hawaii has long leaned liberal on pot. Medical marijuana has been available to Hawaiians with a range of conditions ever since 2000. And in November 2008, voters passed Ballot Question 1, making marijuana enforcement the lowest priority for Hawaii’s County Police and Prosecutors. House Bill 150 passed its first reading and will now be sent to committee in this year's legislative session. One organization working to help 150’s passage is the Marijuana Policy Project; MPP’s Mason Tvert recently said, "Regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol takes marijuana sales out of the hands of criminals and puts them behind the counter in legitimate businesses that will generate significant new revenue for Hawaii."

Likely opponents of Hawaiian legalization include Kevin Sabet, Mel and Betty Sembler, Michel Leonhart, Gil Kerlikowske and David Frum—all of whom were named among "Legalization's Biggest Enemies" in a recent Rolling Stone article. Then there's Fix interviewee Patrick Kennedy, who's been touring the country with Project SAM, touting “re-education” for pot smokers. But perhaps the staunchest opponent of all will be Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly, for whom Hawaii’s “drug problem” is a particular issue. His on-air confusion over why a state with a 35% Asian population would be so liberal—because, you know, Asians are usually so “hardworking and industrious”—caused a storm earlier this month. If, as expected, Hawaii's bill passes, O'Reilly may be booking his vacation elsewhere next year. Though with Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont all expected to consider pot-legalization bills before long, he may start to find his choices quite limited.

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.

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