Hawaii’s 8,067 medical marijuana patients spend an estimated $400 each month on cannabis. In all, medical marijuana is estimated to be a $38 million industry in Hawaii.
But none of that money goes back to the state. Although patients with medical marijuana certificates can legally use the drug for a variety of health problems, they can’t legally buy or sell it. And the state can’t take any taxes on a business that doesn’t legally exist.
Beyond medical marijuana, studies show taxes from legalization of all marijuana sold in Hawaii would bring in anywhere from $4 million to $23 million annually depending on tax rates. That could help eliminate Furlough Fridays, fund education programs, pay state worker salaries, improve road works, health care, public safety, transportation, parks, and more.
What’s more, state and county law enforcement agencies spend $4.1 million per year to enforce marijuana possession and $3 million on distribution laws. The courts spend an extra $2.1 million. All told, enforcing marijuana laws costs the state about $9 to $10 million per year.
With decriminalization, the state and county government could save at least $5 million a year, says UH-West Oahu’s Lawrence Boyd, an economist, in “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Decriminalization and Legalization for Hawai’i.”
But there’s a long history of prohibition and fears that has kept marijuana illegal in Hawaii and the rest of the country for more than 100 years.
Prohibition dates back to the 1900’s when Americans disliked how the minorities and immigrants used Cannabis as a part of their lifestyle.
America demonized cannabis by renaming it marijuana. In the 1930’s, Harry Anslinger, director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst teamed up to spread the false message that marijuana led to violence.
Industrial corporations joined in the probibition efforts, not out of concern about its effects, but to eliminate cannabis as an industrial competitor. By 1937, corruption and yellow journalism triumphed over science, and marijuana became illegal on the federal level.
In the past three decades, according to the documentary “Grass: The History of Marijuana,” Americans spent over $200 billion on prohibition efforts.
And yet, as just about anyone knows, prohibition hasn’t gotten rid of marijuana, whose distribution is mostly controlled by gangs and foreign cartels.
An American is arrested every 37 seconds for violating marijuana laws, and it’s mostly for possession. Instead of going after robbers, murderers, or sex offenders, money and law enforcement time is wasted incarcerating the non-violent marijuana law violators.
“This is what you call a messed up society where people aren’t being heard and the system is just doing what it wants to do,” says Honolulu Commuity College student Timothy Adora. “So that’s kinda sucky right now, and, yup, they should change it big time.”
Today, a number of states are increasingly allowing open sales and distribution of marijuana to medical patients, and legal dispensaries are popping up in many areas. In Hawaii, though, there’s little effort to change the laws.
Will legalization increase use? There’s no evidence that marijuana leads to increased violence or other problems.
“If marijuana wasn’t in this world, I think there would be more violence in the streets,” says HCC student Kameron Watson. “Especially when people like go to the hardcore drugs like coke, batu, and all that, you know herb is like the best thing. Not saying that you should do it, but it’s good for people to smoke it, and they have their right.”
Adds HCC student Matt Lodge: “People do it all the time, but should you treat it as a Schedule 1 narcotic? No, I just don’t think it’s that dangerous.”