East Hawaii News

House Committee Approves Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

March 15, 2013, 11:50 AM HST
* Updated March 15, 4:02 PM
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A bill that would make simple possession of marijuana a civil violation passed the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

The proposed House version of Senate Bill 472 was further amended before being approved, including the adjusting downward of the amounts of marijuana that would trigger various offenses, according to the staff of Rep. Karl Rhoads, the committee’s chairman.

Judiciary Chairman Rep. Karl Rhoads. House photo.

Judiciary Chairman Rep. Karl Rhoads. House photo.

But the main aim of the bill, decriminalizing simple possession, remains a civil violation with a maximum penalty of $100. It is considered decriminalization because under Hawaii law a civil violation is not technically a crime.

The Senate version of the bill would have set the limit at one ounce, but the House has reduced that amount to 20 grams, equivalent to just under three-quarters of an ounce.

The wording of the amended bill is still being finalized and likely will not be posted on the Legislature’s website until next week, the staff member said.


Other changes made by the committee include the addition of wording in the bill’s purpose section referring to negative impacts of marijuana use by minors, inclusion of a provision calling for the suspension of a minor’s driver’s license for possession and correction of an error that would have removed all penalties for possession of 20 grams or under for minors.

Rep. Clift Tsuji. House photo.

Rep. Clift Tsuji. House photo.


Ten members of the committee voted to approve the amended bill, including three who voted in favor with reservations. That group included Rep. Clift Tsuji, a Democrat who represents Hilo and the only Big Island legislator on the committee; Rep. Sharon Har, the committee’s vice-chair; and Rep. Ken Ito.

The lone dissenting vote was cast by Rep. Bob McDermott of Oahu, who along with Rep. Cynthia Thielen are the only Republicans on the panel.

The committee received testimony in opposition to the bill from, among others, the state attorney general, police departments across the state and the state departments of human services, education and public safety.


Those testifying in support of the measure included the Office of the Public Defender, the Libertarian Party, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, Progressive Democrats of Hawaii, Americans for Democratic Action, Community Alliance on Prisons and various pro-marijuana groups.

The bill also has been referred to the House Finance Committee which has not yet scheduled it for a hearing.

***Updated at 12:50 p.m.***

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