BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN- She promised she hasn’t inhaled, but House Majority Floor Leader Rida Cabanilla is looking to marijuana to solve some of Hawaii financial troubles.
Cabanilla said she hopes to legalize cultivation, manufacturing and exporting of marijuana and marijuana food products in Hawaii to pay off the state’s billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities as well as make infrastructure repairs and fund public education and human services programs.
“This state would turn into a manufacturing state. Can you imagine factories that would be making ‘Maui Wowie’ cookies and making marijuana macadamia nut candy for export? I think that would be wonderful,” said Cabanilla, who represents Ewa Villages, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry, Ocean Pointe and West Loch.
Hawaii has some $25 billion in debts, encompassing the state retirement system, the public employee union health fund and outstanding bonds. The state also needs billions in repairs for roads, schools and infrastructure.
“I am not even a fan of it. But if that is what it takes for our state to be in the forefront where we can fix our roads, we can build more affordable housing, we can help the homeless — that is the route we should go,” she said.
Some of her colleagues support the plan, Cabanilla said, but won’t necessarily come out and say it.
“Even though the governor says we are $900 billion in the positive, (there is) this lingering problem about unfunded liabilities and funding preschools and more affordable housing. Those still have to be funded. For many years we have put on this thing about gambling and it doesn’t pass the House because they don’t want it here. … But this one, everybody benefits,” Cabanilla said. “The farmers, the manufacturers, and with the revenue that we are going to get, that proliferates in every household in the state.”
Billions of dollars is Cabanilla’s estimate a legal marijuana manufacturing industry could mean billions of dollars to Hawaii.
“The state of Colorado made $1.6 billion in two weeks just by selling it. How much do you think we’re going to make for producing it and selling it? When we are the best, we are the best. We have the best marijuana in the world. I haven’t tried it, but the people that have tried it say, ‘Wow!’” Cabanilla said.
The first step in Cabanilla’s plan is to pass House Bill 2124, which puts the state’sDepartment of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and Department of Agriculture in charge of a working group that would outline a plan to legalize the cultivation of marijuana in Hawaii for sale and export to foreign jurisdictions, such as the Netherlands, where marijuana is legal.
When the federal government lifts restrictions on marijuana use, Hawaii would be “ready to rock,” Cabanilla said.
“Commercial cultivation and distribution of marijuana is a bold approach toward generating revenue while capitalizing on Hawaii’s inherent strengths,” Cabanilla said. “Hawaii’s rich soil coupled with its temperate climate provides ideal conditions for year-round farming and cultivation. Hawaii is well situated to provide an abundant supply of quality marijuana to fill a growing international demand.”
While Hawaii already has among the highest overall taxes inthe nation, Cabanilla said the taxes on marijuana exports would be sky high — at least 25 percent.
“Whatever tax we can get, it will be enormous. Whatever tax we can come up with, it will be there. And people in Hawaii will be so happy, because this may be the state that they don’t have to pay property tax,” Cabanilla said. “This is going to be an economic engine unparalleled by anything else because we have the perfect soil, and we have the round climate to grow them and our farmers will never be poor again.”
Cabanilla has the backing of co-sponsor Rep. Richard Creagan, a Democrat who represents Naalehu, Captain Cook and Keauhou. He is also a medical doctor.
Even though recreational marijuana use is illegal in Hawaii and moving marijuana across state lines or on federal property is illegal, Creagan said a working group will prepare the state for future changes in drug policy.
“Our country is moving towards an eventual goal of legalizing marijuana. It’s legalized in a host of states (including Hawaii) for medical reasons, and when you look at the risk benefit of marijuana versus other things like narcotics, the risk is small and the benefit is huge,” Creagan said.
Rep. Faye Hanohano, a Democrat also from Hawaii Island, also endorsed Cabanilla’s bill. She said she too has introduced four marijuana-related bills that do everything from legalize marijuana to establish medical marijuana compassion centers.
“It is already growing. Of course, it is illegal,” Hanohano said about marijuana grown on her island, which is known for its “Kona Gold.”
But advocates dreaming of legalized pot in Hawaii shouldn’t hold their breath.
Under her plan, the marijuana Cabanilla hopes will be grown in the islands won’t be available to local people or other Americans quite yet. It only would be available to foreign markets.
“I don’t agree that our people should be using it. But I mean, if those countries that have accepted it for their people and they have laws in place for it, who am I to judge?” Cabanilla said with a shrug and a smile.