In this week’s cannabis news round-up, Hawaii cannabis legalization on the ecards as lawmakers propose adult-use cannabis bills; Massachusetts cannabis market sales exceed $1.56 billion in 2023; and a new study reveals alcohol increases car crash risk, not cannabis.
Hawaii Lawmakers Propose Adult-Use Cannabis Bills
Lawmakers in Hawaii have introduced three bills in a renewed effort to legalize adult-use cannabis with varying approaches to legalization, including full legalization, voter decision and decriminalization.
House Rep. David Tarnas (D) and Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole (D) presented House Bill 2600 and Senate Bill 3335 following Attorney General Anne Lopez’s 2023 commitment to work with lawmakers and stakeholders to advance cannabis law reform. If passed, adults aged 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and five grams of concentrates, with home cultivation of up to six plants permitted.
The legislation, scheduled for January 1, 2026, would establish a Hawaii Cannabis Authority to regulate the industry, oversee licensing and impose a 10% tax on adult-use cannabis sales in addition to the state’s 4% sales tax.
While the bills have support from state lawmakers, cannabis advocacy groups such as the National Organization for the Reform of Cannabis Laws (NORML) and the Cannabis Policy Project have raised concerns, including objections to provisions including new criminal penalties for minors, arguing that the proposed structure remains excessively punitive.
Nikos Leverenz, representing the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center, cautioned against a legalization framework that maintains a punitive approach, emphasizing the need for a more balanced approach to regulation.
Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for Cannabis Policy Project agrees, saying, “Legalization should mean fewer cannabis arrests, not more.” She went on to say that policy change “should include the clearing of criminal records for cannabis and reinvestment in hard-hit communities. Instead, these bills ramp up cannabis-specific law enforcement and impose jail time for innocuous behavior that harms no one, including driving long after impairment wears off and having a previously opened jar of edibles in the passenger area of a car.”
Massachusetts Cannabis Market Sales Exceed $1.56 Billion in 2023
The Cannabis Control Commission in Massachusetts has announced that adult-use sales surpassed $1.56 billion in 2023, marking a $78 million increase from the previous year, constituting over a 5% growth. December 2023 alone saw adult-use Cannabis Retailers and Delivery Operators generating $140.1 million in sales, surpassing previous records set earlier in the year.
Acting Chair Ava Concepcion attributed this growth to the maturing nature of the state’s regulated cannabis industry, which comes from continuous expansion, increased retailers and delivery licensees, stabilized flower prices and increased accessibility.
Since the opening of the first two adult-use retail stores in November 2018, the state has seen a steady increase in cannabis establishments, reaching a total of 338 Cannabis Retailers and 21 delivery businesses by December 31, 2023. Notably, 2023 witnessed the four highest adult-use cannabis sales months, with nine of the top 12 all-time sales months occurring within that year. The medical cannabis market also contributed significantly to the state’s overall sales, with over 97,000 certified medical patients accounting for $225 million in sales from the 103 Medical Cannabis Treatment Centers.
The combined total of adult-use and medical cannabis sales in Massachusetts amounted to $1.79 billion in 2023, setting a new record for the calendar year. As of January 28, 2024, data recorded in Metrc by cannabis retailers and delivery businesses revealed an impressive $5.65 billion in sales statewide.
Study: Alcohol Increases Car Crash Risk, Not Cannabis
A recent study published in the April 2024 issue of Accident Analysis and Prevention suggests that cannabis use alone does not increase the likelihood of car accidents. Researchers from various institutions, including the Oregon Health and Science University and the University of Colorado School of Medicine, conducted the study by analyzing data from emergency departments in Denver, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; and Sacramento, California. They measured drivers’ blood for THC and metabolites, recorded alcohol levels and interviewed drivers.
Contrary to common belief, the study found that high self-reported acute cannabis use was associated with lower odds of a crash. However, alcohol use—whether alone or combined with cannabis—showed a clear correlation with the likelihood of a collision.
While the findings suggest that cannabis use alone does not increase the risk of motor vehicle collisions (MVCs), the study emphasizes that impaired driving due to cannabis consumption is still a concern. The research team concluded that THC levels are not a reliable indicator of driving risk and suggested that measuring actual impairment would be a better approach.
The study found that drivers who reported using more cannabis were less likely to be involved in crashes, challenging the assumption that increased cannabis use leads to higher accident rates. The authors highlighted the importance of focusing on actual driving behaviors and signs of intoxication rather than relying solely on drug levels to determine impairment.
Regarding per se DUI limits on THC, the study highlighted the complexity of using strict cut-offs for drug levels to assess the influence of cannabis use on driving. Factors such as usual cannabis use patterns and the timing and means of measurement can affect the interpretation of THC levels.