Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana Passes Senate Committee
by Dave Smith
***Updated on March 5 to correct the penalty amount.***
A bill that would decriminalize the use of marijuana has been approved by a Senate committee.
Senate Bill 472, Draft 1 would make possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil violation with a maximum fine of $1,000.
The original version of the bill carried a penalty of $100, but members of the Committee on Judiciary and Labor increased the fine to bring it more in line with current law.
State law now treats possession of less than an ounce as a petty misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to 30 days.
The bill received unanimous approval today from the committee, although Sen. Sam Slom, the Senate’s lone Republican, voted yes “with reservations.”
Testimony in support of the bill was received from, among others, the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, Drug Policy Action Group, American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Imua Alliance, Community Alliance on Prisons and dozens of individuals.
Those testifying in opposition of the bill included the state Attorney General’s office, the Honolulu prosecuting attorney, Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii and the police departments of the counties of Hawaii, Honolulu and Maui.
Several dozen members of the public also submitted emailed testimony against the bill with most saying the measure “will send the wrong message to our youth.”
The bill was co-introduced by 13 of the Senate’s 25 members, including Sen. Russell Ruderman and Sen. Malama Solomon from the Big Island delegation.