Hawaii Senate Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Passes, Moves to House


A bill aimed at decriminalizing marijuana in Hawaii has been passed by the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee. The measure will now move on to the House for consideration.

SB472 Relating to Marijuana would remove criminal penalties for possession of an ounce or less of cannabis, making it subject instead to a simple fine of not more than $100.

Why SB472 is a good idea.

Decriminalization allows police to spend money on serious and violent crimes:

  • Decriminalizing possession of less than an ounce of marijuana could save state and county governments in Hawai‘i an estimated $9 million annually.(1)
  • Nationally, approximately $8 billion is spent every year arresting and prosecuting individuals for marijuana violations.2 Almost 90% of these arrests are for marijuana possession only.(3)
  • Since 2004, possession arrests in Hawai‘i have increased almost 50% and distribution arrests almost doubled.(1)
  • Decriminalization does not allow anyone to sell marijuana, nor does it allow anyone to purchase or possess marijuana.
  • Marijuana is not a “gateway drug”. The National Academy of Sciences found, “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”(8)
  • Compared to possession of marijuana – ice and violent crimes are much bigger problems. Our police should spend more time and resources going after violent crime or hard drugs.

Far more harm results from the criminalization of marijuana than from marijuana use itself:

In Hawai‘i:

  • Juveniles are 70% more likely to be arrested than adults.(1)
  • Native Hawaiians are 70% more likely to be arrested than non-native Hawaiians.(1)

Convicted marijuana offenders:

  • Are denied federal student aid;
  • Lose their professional licenses;
  • Encounter barriers to employment, housing, and adoption.

These penalties disproportionally affect young, low income, and minority individuals.(2)

Decriminalization does not increase marijuana use:

  • There is no evidence to support claims that criminalization reduces use or decriminalization increases use.(4)
  • Studies find that decriminalizing marijuana has had no effect on marijuana use among young people.(5)
  • Harsh marijuana laws do not deter use. (6)

Hawai‘i supports decriminalization:

  • 58% of residents believe that marijuana possession for personal use should carry a fine instead of jail time.(7)
  • 75% of the registered voters said if their state legislator voted to decriminalize marijuana it would either have no impact on their vote or it would actually make them more likely to vote for that legislator

Fourteen states have already decriminalized marijuana: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, plus in cities and counties in nine other states. Cultivation and distribution remain criminal offenses. In November 2012, Colorado and Washington went a step further and passed voter initiatives to tax and regulate marijuana for recreational use.

Studies cited:

1. Nixon, David. Update to: Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Decriminalization and Legalization in Hawai’i. University of Hawai’i, Dec 2012.

2. Duncan, Cynthia. “The Need for Change: An Economic Analysis of Marijuana Policy.” Connecticut Law Review 14 (July 2009)

3. United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s combined Uniform Reports. Crime in the United States: Table: Arrest for Drug Abuse Violations. U.S. Department of Justice: Washington, DC. 2010.

4. Reinarman, Cohen, and Kaal. “The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy: Cannabis in Amsterdam and San Francisco.” American Journal of Public Health 94.5 (May 2004)

5. Williams, Jenny. “The Effects of Price and Policy on Marijuana Use: What Can Be
Learned from the Australian Experience?” Health Economics 13 (2004): 123-137.

6. Connecticut. Connecticut Law Review Commission. Drug Policy in Connecticut and Strategy Options: Report to the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut Assembly. State Capitol: Hartford, 1997.

7. QMark Research & Polling. November 19 –December 4, 2012. Survey of 603 adults statewide, MOE +/-4%

8. National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base”. National Academy Press: Washington, DC, 5, 6. 1999.

Charlie Cook is an organizer for the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawai‘i

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