State Democratic Majority Leader J. Kalani English, (a former cocaine dealer), is raising eyebrows at the state Capitol after he helped to pass the law to create medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawaii and then joined in a group that applied for one of the potentially lucrative dispensary licenses.
State employees and lawmakers are prohibited from using their positions to receive any unwarranted advantages, and cannot use confidential information obtained through their positions to benefit themselves….
…some of English’s colleagues are saying privately or publicly that his participation in a firm that applied to become one of Hawaii’s first marijuana retail centers gives the appearance of a conflict to the public.
“I wouldn’t do it,” said Sen. Sam Slom….
“Look, there’s already people that think that we’re self-dealing or we’re crooks or we’re jerks or whatever, so I think to the extent that we can show them that we are fair and we are open and we’re doing our job, I think that’s the most important thing,” said Slom (R, Diamond Head-Kahala-Hawaii Kai).
English is listed in state records as one of four members of Hawaii Medicinal Options LLC, which is one of 59 applicants for eight marijuana dispensary licenses….
Another of English’s colleagues, who asked not to be identified, said the public might believe that English, a key leader of the Senate’s ruling Democratic caucus, will somehow use his clout to influence the selection process….
“It’s the general perception of it, because there’s a general distrust anyway.”
And since bills are being considered this year to refine the dispensary law, the situation appears to be one where “you’re in the game, and now you’re making rules for it,” the lawmaker said.
Lawmakers this year are considering a number of possible changes to the law such as specifying that license holders can cultivate marijuana in greenhouses or shade houses, and English would normally participate in measures like those as the majority leader and a voting member of the Senate.
State Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo said the Hawaii State Code of Ethics exempts lawmakers from the conflicts-of-interest restrictions when it comes to voting or participating in official matters as legislators…
Rep. Marcus Oshiro, who has been a supporter of medical marijuana but a critic of the new dispensaries law, said there are already questions about favoritism or undue influence in the process to decide who will get licenses, and that this doesn’t help.
“It leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, and I wouldn’t want to touch this with a 10-foot pole,” said Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Poamoho). “Perception counts for a lot in politics, and from most people’s perspective it doesn’t look good to amend the laws that could benefit you or your friends.”
Marijuana: Secrecy, Unknown Agendas, connected applicants and lobbyists pressuring friends
Shapiro: The state Health Department’s apparently aborted scheme to select Hawaii’s eight medical marijuana licensees in secrecy adds to a sinking feeling that this high-stakes program won’t go well.
Using a legislative exemption, the department dispensed with hearings and public comments in drafting rules for exclusive and potentially lucrative licenses to grow and sell medical pot.
Then the state tried to avoid disclosing who would serve on the panel that will select eight licensees from 59 applicants, reversing course only after the Honolulu Star-Advertiser threatened a lawsuit.
The plan was for secret judges with unknown agendas and vague criteria deciding which of the rich, famous and politically connected applicants get licenses to mint money.
What could go wrong?
The state now says it’ll release names of selectors, but claims they haven’t been chosen yet as signs of disorder abound.
The Ige administration initially defended the secrecy as necessary to avoid tainting the integrity of the process with outside public pressure on the selection committee.
They have it backward: The real worry isn’t outside pressure but inside pressure — connected applicants and lobbyists pressuring friends in the administration or Legislature to influence the process.
Prominent names tied to applications include former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, former state Attorney General David Louie, Honolulu rail director Ivan Lui-Kwan, actor Woody Harrelson, producer Shep Gordon, former St. Francis Healthcare CEO Eugene Tiwanak, tech entrepreneur Henk Rogers, Hawaii island farmer Richard Ha, Maui state Sen. J. Kalani English and Anthony Takitani, law partner of Senate Judiciary Chairman Gil Keith-Agaran.
Adding to the secrecy and potential for backdoor influence is that many pot license applicants are limited-liability companies, which aren’t required to publicly identify principals behind the front persons….
read … A-state-that-favors-secrecy