Last year, Hawai‘i joined the league of states that have enacted laws to decriminalize or legalize marijuana for recreational use. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), that makes us the 26th state (including the District of Columbia) in the union to enact such a law. HB1383, as the decriminalization bill was titled, goes into effect this Saturday, Jan. 11.
But wait! Before you roll up that celebratory joint and stroll down the street, here are five things you should know about decriminalization.
1. You Must Have 3 Or Less Grams
Yes, decriminalization in Hawai‘i only applies to possession of 3 grams or less of cannabis. (Don’t worry, medical marijuana license holders, you can still legally hold up to 4 ounces, or about 112 grams.) While the original version of HB1383 outlined decriminalization for cannabis-related offenses ranging from possession of 3 grams to 25 pounds, the bill was whittled down as it worked through last year’s legislative process.
Three grams of cannabis is the equivalent of three to six average-sized joints, states the cannabis website Leafly.com. Three grams is also slightly less than an eighth-ounce of weed (3.5 grams), a common measurement used by buyers and sellers. Time to tell your dealer to start using the metric system.
2. Decriminalization Is Not Legalization (There Are Still Penalties)
OK, so you’ve switched over to the metric system and are sure to not have more than 3 grams on your person. While you’ll no longer face criminal charges for getting caught with 3 or less grams of cannabis, that doesn’t mean it’s legal. It just means the penalties won’t be as severe as they once were. There will still be a penalty for the possession of 3-or-less grams of cannabis: a fine of $130. And, if you’re caught with more than that, you can still be arrested and face jail time.
“It’s important for the public to understand that decriminalizing cannabis in small amounts does not make possession legal. Violators will be cited and will be required to pay a fine,” read a statement from the Maui County Prosecutor’s Office. They’ll be on the lookout for offenders: “The department anticipates an increase in the amount of cases involving impaired driving, negligent homicide, and negligent injury due to impaired driving,” the statement added.
Maui Police Department information officer John Sang concurred. “The decriminalization of cannabis does not change our priorities as they relate to drug possession. Possession of cannabis still constitutes a violation of state statutes,” he said. “The Maui Police Department will still enforce all applicable laws as they pertain drug possession.”
So what’s the point? Well, for starters, at least you won’t be arrested or thrown in jail. And, removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis could have wide-reaching impacts: “Decriminalization of cannabis in small amounts may decrease the amount of criminal cases filed by the department,” said the Prosecutor’s Office statement.
Further, US Census data from 2018 shows that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders make up 10.2 percent of the population while the 2017 Crime in Hawai‘i Report states that 29.2 percent of those arrested for cannabis possession are Hawaiian. Decriminalization is a step toward correcting this inequality.
3. Past Convicts May Have Their Records Expunged
Got a record from a past cannabis-related indiscretion? If the conviction involved 3 grams of cannabis or less and included no other criminal charges, you can apply to have the record cleared, or expunged.
4. Prohibition Attitudes Prevail (At Least In Hawai‘i, For Now…)
While decriminalization can be seen as one step toward legalization or more liberal cannabis laws (states with legal recreational cannabis like Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois passed decriminalization provisions before full legalization), don’t expect January 11 to arrive in a cloud of smoke. Social change takes time, and if the debate around HB1383 revealed anything, it’s that opposition to progressive cannabis law reform still exists.
HB1383 passed without Governor David Ige’s signature, a signal that he did not endorse the bill but didn’t have the will to fight it, either. “That was a very tough call,” Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “I did go back and forth on the decriminalization of marijuana.” He opposed bills related to cannabis legalization and ran for re-election on a platform opposed to legalization.
Maui Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu, for his part, filed testimony in opposition to HB1383 last year, citing the tired “Gateway Drug” argument and asking “Why decriminalize it so those people who have no medical condition are allowed to get ‘high?’”
Nevermind that alcohol (legal!) is magnitudes worse for health and society, and that prohibition amounts to a costly drug war, a stronger black market, and a larger prison population of non-violent offenders.
5. Decriminalization Is a Step; More Cannabis Bills Will Be Debated
As mentioned, decriminalization can be seen as a step toward progressive cannabis laws. “Hawai‘i needs legalized adult-use cannabis in the same manner Illinois has just managed,” said Rep. Tina Wildberger (D-South Maui), who was one of the introducers of HB1383. “They have incorporated social justice components into their law. Their governor, JB Pritzker has just granted more than 11,000 pardons in their first wave of expungements.”
She will be continuing work on cannabis-law reform in the upcoming 2020 legislative session, starting with HB1581, a legalization bill that failed last year. She added that a bill should learn from the states that have already legalized the sticky-icky, and include provisions regarding dispensaries, banking, and commerce.
“Judiciary Chair Rep. Chris Lee has been working on this issue and I bet we’ll see more movement on this issue in the future,” Wildberger said. “It’s important for the general public to understand that cannabis legalization isn’t about increasing cannabis use,” she added. “Rather, it’s simply removing the criminal component and the stigma of a behavior practiced already by many.”
What do you think?
Are you satisfied with the new cannabis decriminalization law affecting possession of 3-or-less grams of cannabis?
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Photo by Mauitime