Hawai‘i has long had a love affair with marijuana. In 1978, Don Ho slurred his way to the top of local radio charts with “Who is the Lolo (Who Stole My Pakalolo?).” In 1979, Rolling Stone called pakalolo “Hawaii’s No. 1 crop, above sugar and pineapple.” Decades later, a new generation of kids hung out in basements and garages lulled by Humble Soul’s “Pakalolo Sweet” and skanked at reggae bashes to Natural Vibrations’ “Maryjane,” the skunky cloud of smoke hovering over it all.
Today, Hawai‘i, like the rest of the nation, remains in a state of reefer madness. Last year, Hawai‘i lawmakers killed bills that would have decriminalized and legalized marijuana. While the road to cannabis legalization remains hazy, access to medicinal marijuana may become easier for the more than 12,000 Hawai‘i residents partaking in pakalolo for any one of the approved conditions (cancer, chronic pain, Chrohn’s disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV or Aids, multiple sclerosis, or nausea).
Hawai‘i is among the 20 states plus Washington D.C. to have legalized medicinal marijuana, but dispensaries are not allowed, which House Speaker Joe Souki called “a gap in the law” at the opening of the 2014 legislative session on January 15. (A recent poll by QMark Research, commissioned by the Drug Policy Action Group, found that 78 percent of Hawai‘i voters support a dispensary system for medial marijuana patients). Marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, but it seems a change in the tide is underway for the first time in decades. Here is a look at some of the most fervent debate on the topic.
For the first time in 44 years, Americans favor legalizing the use of marijuana, with 58 percent in favor according to a Gallup poll (it was 12 percent in 1969, when Gallup first asked the question).
In that same Gallup poll, 39 percent were against legalizing the use of marijuana (as opposed to 84 percent in 1969).
Proponents of marijuana legalization got their biggest endorsement when President Obama said in an article in The New Yorker: “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol. … We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
“I think that pot, marijuana for medical purposes is understandable, but I don’t think that it should be legalized for recreational purposes because it has been proven to prevent people from their full potential,” said Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo to HuffPost Live. “I don’t think that’s a good thing for society. If we’re trying to move things forward, a drug like marijuana does the opposite. It will slow things down.”
“With this one medication,” Missy Miller said in an article in Reuters, referring to a specialized strain of marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web, “it’s stopping their seizures or dramatically reducing their seizures.” Miller’s 14-year-old son Oliver suffers from epilepsy and experiences hundreds of seizures a day.
“Less than 5 percent of medical marijuana users around the country have cancer, HIV, or glaucoma,” wrote former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy in the forward of Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana. “Marijuana destroys the brain and expedites psychosis,” Kennedy told the Washington Post in January 2013. “In terms of neurobiology, there’s no distinction between the quality and types of drugs that people get addicted to. That’s why they call it a gateway drug. Addiction is addiction is addiction.”
“One of the lessons from Prohibition is that we need effective regulations. … Regulation is necessary to ensure that consumers are protected and that legitimate businesses have an opportunity to participate in the market. Regulation is a framework to support the market, not an attempt to stifle it,” wrote Garrett Peck in The New York Times.
UCLA drug policy expert Mark Kleiman estimates the retail cost of recreational marijuana could skyrocket to between $482 and $723 per ounce as a result of regulations and taxes—58 percent higher than what it would regularly be. “That’s a big problem,” Kleiman said in an article in Forbes. “The legal market is going to have a hard time competing with the illegal market, but a particularly hard time competing with the untaxed, unregulated sort-of-legal market.”
A 2010 report by Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron estimates the U.S. government could generate a combined $17.4 billion savings from enforcement of prohibition and tax revenues were marijuana to be legalized. In Colorado, a 25 percent state tax on recreational-use pot purchases is expected to generate $67 million. Here in Hawai‘i, a report by University of Hawai‘i professor David Nixon commissioned in 2013 by Drug Policy Action Group estimated $9 million could be redirected annually to state and county governments as a result of decriminalizing marijuana.
Opponents of marijuana legalization refute purported monies gained from taxes on pot. “Sadly, however, we know that vice taxes rarely pay for themselves,” said Kevin Sabet, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, in a story on CNN. “The $40 billion we collect annually from high levels of tobacco and alcohol use in the U.S. are about a tenth of what those use levels cost us in terms of lost productivity, premature illness, accidents and death.”