Connect with us


Hawaii Governor Signs Marijuana Expungement Pilot Program Bill Into Law



Hawaii Gov. Josh Green (D) has signed into law a marijuana expungements bill to launch a single-county pilot program aimed at clearing certain past offenses. A separate measure to create a task force that would craft broader expungement-focused legislation, meanwhile, is also poised to become law.

Green approved the cannabis-specific legislation, HB 1595, without issuing a formal signing statement. The new pilot program will work to expunge non-conviction marijuana arrest records in Hawaii County, home to about 14 percent of the state’s population. The county comprises the Big Island and is the state’s second most populous after Honolulu County.

As originally introduced, the measure from Rep. David Tarnas (D) would have directed state officials to automatically expunge tens of thousands of arrest and conviction records for low-level marijuana possession. But the Senate Judiciary Committee later gutted the proposal, replacing the statewide plan with a pilot program in Hawaii County that would apply only to non-conviction arrest records.

The scaled-back approach is the product of an amendment from Attorney General Anne Lopez (D), whose office told Marijuana Moment in an interview earlier this year that the issue was budgetary, claiming that “there simply isn’t the money available for new kinds of projects that aren’t deemed necessary or crucial to the recovery” following massive wildfires that tore through Maui last August.

“We felt that a pilot project to show how that would work, and potentially what resources would be required for a larger expungement program, would be appropriate,” said Dave Day, special assistant to the attorney general.

Supporters see the plan as the beginning of what they hope will become a broader push to clear criminal records around cannabis.

“This bill is a good first step by setting up a pilot project to expunge non-conviction arrest records of low-level cannabis-related offenses in one county,” sponsor Tarnas told Marijuana Moment in an email after the Senate approved the bill in April. “Lessons learned from this experience will help as the expungement effort expands statewide and to also include records of conviction of low-level cannabis-related offenses as well.”

Reform advocates said Green’s approval of the pilot program on Friday represents a victory in the face of the legislature’s failure to pass a marijuana legalization bill this session.

“This year’s legalization push began with a redline drawn by the Hawai’i Attorneys General Office that the Department would actively oppose any attempt to streamline record clearance,” Adrian Rocha, policy manager for the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), told Marijuana Moment in a statement Tuesday. “Through persistence, diligence, and coordination among key stakeholders, LPP was able to pull together opposing parties to get this bill passed even though legalization did not.”

Rocha praised Tarnas “for being a steady hand throughout this process” and said advocates “look forward to rolling our sleeves up and delivering relief for countless Hawaiians.”

A separate bill to expand the state’s existing law decriminalizing small amounts of cannabis also failed to pass this session.

The other expungements proposal, SB 2706, that is still awaiting action by the governor was not on a list of bills Green’s office said last week that he intends to veto. He has until the end of Tuesday to indicate which measures he intends to reject.

That bill would create a so-called Clean Slate Expungement Task Force charged with crafting legislation for a state-led record-clearing program. It does not explicitly mention cannabis, but marijuana-related offenses are widely expected to be included in the task force’s discussions.

Carrie Ann Shirota, policy director for ACLU of Hawai’i, said the two bills are incremental reforms on the path toward broader justice.

“Passage of the cannabis expungement pilot project and Clean Slate Task Force bills is a small step forward to repair the decades of harm and life time barriers to employment, housing and other opportunities from the failed War on Drugs and mass incarceration policies,” Shirota wrote in an email to Marijuana Moment. “Rampant racial disparities still remain and too many remain locked behind bars for innocuous cannabis charges in Hawai‘i. A more just system isn’t possible until we legalize cannabis and all people incarcerated for cannabis are released and criminal records for these offenses are expunged.”

The governor’s deadline to sign legislation is July 10, although the expungements task force bill would also become law if Green does not take any formal action on it.

Following the failure of the broader legalization push, Green said in April that he has “a possible solution” to the situation: vastly expanding the Hawaii’s existing medical cannabis system to allow people to register based on any health concern rather than needing to have one of a specific list of conditions.

“This would make it very available—that’s marijuana—for those who choose it in their lives,” the governor said in an interview with Hawaii News Now, “and it would still keep kids safe, which has been everyone’s priority.”

At the same time, Green reiterated his support for full recreational legalization.

“I think for adults who can responsibly use marijuana, it should be legal,” he said.

This story has been updated with comments from ACLU of Hawai’i and a corrected deadline for Gov. Green to signal if he intends to veto the task force bill.

Marijuana Rescheduling Won’t Fulfill Biden’s Campaign Pledge To Decriminalize (Op-Ed)

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Get our daily newsletter.

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox


Get our daily newsletter.