A marijuana decriminalization bill is heading to the Hawaii governor’s desk after the House and Senate signed off on a conference report reconciling their respective versions of the legislation on Tuesday.
The bill would make possession of three grams or less of cannabis punishable by a $130 fine and no jail time. Individuals with prior low-level marijuana convictions could also have their records expunged under the legislation.
Additionally, a task force would be established to study the effects of marijuana laws and penalties in other states and report back with recommendations about potential further reform.
The House approved the bill by a vote of 35 to 16, with the Senate voting 22 to 3.
Currently, cannabis possession is considered a petty misdemeanor that carries up to a $1,000 fine.
The bill went through the wringer over the course of several committee hearings, during which it was repeatedly amended, often to the dissatisfaction of reform advocates. While it ultimately prevailed, some have pointed out that the three gram possession threshold is significantly lower than in other states that have decriminalized the plant.
For example, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed a bill earlier this month that reduces the penalty for possession of a half ounce or less of marijuana to a $50 fine. The Texas House passed decriminalization legislation on Monday that makes possession of one ounce or less of cannabis punishable by a $500 fine without the threat of jail time.
“This decriminalization of cannabis possession for personal use, even with this unduly small threshold, is a welcome development,” Nikos Leverenz, board president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii (DPFH), said in a press release. “Hopefully this measure will make some inroads on the over 1,000 Hawaii residents who are arrested for misdemeanor cannabis possession each year.”
“Continued criminalization of cannabis possession is injurious to individual and public health as it fuels legal, medical, and social stigma,” he said. “For many this stigma drives their criminal justice system involvement and erects barriers to employment and medical care. The criminal justice system should focus on those activities that pose a tangible safety risk to others. Cannabis possession is not among them.”
The final bill’s $130 fine also represents an increase from the $30 sum included in an amended version of the bill that was approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Carl Bergquist, executive director of DPFH, said that the fine “is wholly disproportionate to the three gram amount, and will disparately impact low-income communities.”
Gov. David Ige (D) is expected to sign the legislation. As a state senator in 2013, he voted in favor of a decriminalization bill, although he has voiced concerns about broader marijuana legalization.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.