HONOLULU - A state lawmaker wants Hawaii to consider allowing farmers to grow marijuana for export to other nations as a way to raise tax revenue, but it's far from clear who would buy it and whether the federal government would even allow it.
Democratic Rep. Rida Cabanilla suggests that Hawaii could ship cannabis to countries like Uruguay, where it's legal, and the Czech Republic, where it's legal to import the plant for medicinal use. But Uruguay plans to grow its own marijuana, and the Czech Republic is only allowing imports from the Netherlands.
But Cabanilla said taxes on cannabis farmers' profits could generate billions in revenue and help the state pay for preschools, affordable housing, care for the elderly and other initiatives.
The proposal is another push by a state to change marijuana laws. Washington and Colorado have legalized recreational marijuana use, but both states will only allow the drug to be grown by licensed producers within their own borders. Sales for adults over 21 began Jan. 1 in Colorado and Washington's stores are expected to open later this year.
Cabanilla doesn't anticipate that Hawaii would legalize cannabis sales in the islands because the state is "very conservative." But she said she is confident that Hawaii-grown marijuana would dominate international markets because the state's warm weather and fertile soil provide ideal growing conditions. She noted that Hawaii is already famous for pot.
"I'm not a marijuana connoisseur, so I really could not say on my personal experience, but what people say is that the 'Maui Wowie' is the best," she said of the pot strain.
Legislation Cabinilla introduced this week would create a working group to study the idea.
Such marijuana shipments would be illegal under federal law, and it's unclear whether the Justice Department would tolerate them. The DOJ issued a memo last summer announcing that it would not challenge efforts by states to regulate marijuana, as long as they meet certain federal law enforcement priorities, such as keeping weed from legal-pot states from being diverted to states where it's banned. The memo made no mention of pot shipments among U.S. states or for export.
Cabanilla says if Hawaii's marijuana exports were allowed, it would help the state prepare for eventual sales to other U.S. states, given what she called a "national wave" toward legalization after Colorado's and Washington's moves.
The bill has been referred for hearings to the House committees on agriculture, economic development, justice and finance. House Speaker Joe Souki signed on as a co-sponsor along with about 10 other lawmakers.
The proposal faces obvious hurdles, however, as nations where marijuana is either legal or tolerated strictly control its sale.
Uruguay, which adopted legalization last year, is drafting regulations governing marijuana. Uruguay's drug czar has said the price of marijuana would be set at $1 per gram - about one-tenth of what marijuana costs at medical marijuana dispensaries in some U.S. states. This would likely make it impractical for Hawaii farmers to export marijuana there even if Uruguay allowed imports.
The Czech Republic, meanwhile, allows imports of just four types of cannabis that can be obtained only from the Netherlands. It restricts imports to these four types from the Dutch marijuana monopoly to ensure quality.