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Momentum building for legalization of Recreational Marijuana in Hawaii

There's a huge push underway to allow the recreational use of marijuana, even though the drug is still illegal under federal law.

A group of state leaders, dispensaries and patients are crafting a plan to establish a system for the Legislature to consider next session.

And more lawmakers are supporting legalization than ever before as a way to diversify the economy and bring in more revenue for the state.

"We are closer than ever moving forward in that direction," said Rep. Ryan Yamane, (D) Mililani. "We've always heard about if we legalize marijuana it would bring hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy." 

According to the Hawaii Cannabis Industry Association, medical marijuana brought in an estimated $50 million in annual sales last year and more than $2 million in state general excise taxes.

But those against legalization fear the drug will lead to more drug addiction and crime on the streets.

"We already have essentially a cannabis industry in Hawaii, it's just not legal," said Randy Gonce of the Hawaii Cannabis Industry Association. "Essentially we're bringing all the unfavorables of the cannabis industry and all the things that the naysayers say about cannabis, we're going to bring that into the light and we're going to regulate it." 

What's also driving the push for recreational use are bills in Congress to lift the federal ban on cannabis. Task force members say it's important Hawaii sets up an industry before that happens because it would be competing against other states.

"That would allow interstate commerce between states for cannabis," Gonce said. "We would then have an import market for cannabis in Hawaii and it would push out a lot of our local farmers and local people who want to get into that industry." 

Members say legalization will happen -- it's just a matter of when -- so Hawaii should be prepared to capitalize on what could be a lucrative industry.

"It should be geared towards local people local population and go to help our state," he said. "We could support more than the sugar plantations did for jobs and generational wealth and things of that nature given Hawaii's unique relationship with cannabis."

The task force met today to take public testimony on safety issues and the potential roll out of the program. Next year's crucial for legalization because industry experts say it would take several years to actually establish the industry. And in order for that to be successful, it must be grown, manufactured and packaged here, not imported.
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