“Marijuana is already regulated in Hawaii. Why decriminalize it so those people who have no medical condition are allowed to get ‘high?’”
–Maui Police Department Chief Tivoli Faaumu, in testimony dated Feb. 4, 2019
“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
Last week, the Hawai‘i State House Committee on the Judiciary took up House Bill 1383, a hopeful in this year’s batch of cannabis-law reform measures. The proposed legislation falls short of a Colorado-style legalization-for-adult-use scheme, long the stony dream of many of Hawai‘i’s pakalolo enthusiasts, and instead seeks to make four modest revisions: Change statutory references from “marijuana” to “cannabis”; decriminalize certain offenses relating to marijuana and make them violations punishable by monetary fines; provide for the dismissal of criminal charges, and expungement of criminal records, pertaining solely to cannabis; and establish a cannabis evaluation working group to study the future of cannabis in the state.
All in all, if HB1383 becomes law, it’s hardly the type of legislation that will have celebrants lined outside dispensaries and sparking joints on the sidewalk like it’s Amsterdam. It’d just mean “marijuana,” a term rooted in racism and sensational fear tactics, is no longer politically correct, and cannabis possession violations won’t land individuals in prison for committing a non-violent crime.
Of course, that isn’t to say the bill is insignificant. In fact, it was important enough to draw a response from Maui’s own chief of police, Tivoli Faaumu.
“As Law Enforcement, we understand the reasoning behind decriminalizing and regulating small amounts of marijuana for personal use,” Faaumu wrote in testimony representing the Maui Police Department. “Marijuana, however, is a gateway drug, meaning that a person who ingests marijuana is more than likely to progress to other drugs such as Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Heroin, and prescription pills.”
Now there’s an argument straight out of the ‘90s-era DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) curriculum. In 2019, however, the science regarding the Gateway Drug Theory is not as certain as Faaumu makes it sound. As the National Institute on Drug Addiction states on its website, “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.” While “some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to precede use of other licit and illicit substances and the development of addiction to other substances,” that’s far from a causal link and doesn’t take into account the many environmental factors that influence drug use and abuse.
The chief continued, “We cannot allow the public to medicate themselves at their discretion. In addition, by allowing possession for personal use, where is the regulation for the people who ingest/smoke marijuana. It is proven that second hand smoke from marijuana can and will affect the surrounding people. We do not want marijuana freely ingested in the public, nor do we want marijuana ingested or smoked near children.”
I’ll give him one thing: I don’t want people blowing smoke rings in infants’ faces either. But, the image of “marijuana freely ingested in the public” doesn’t follow this piece of legislation (idyllic as that may sound to some). In the bill, knowingly possessing any amount of cannabis is still considered a violation of “Promoting cannabis detrimentally in the third degree,” punishable by fine.
Perhaps more suspect is Faaumu’s authoritarian decree that the public can’t be trusted to self medicate. The statement neglects the fact that adults of age can purchase and consume caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco at will, and that study after study identifies alcohol and tobacco as being far more dangerous than cannabis.
“Members of the Maui Police Department have spoken to law enforcement from Colorado, one of the first states to fully legalize marijuana consumption and possession,” Faaumu added. “Many if not all of those law enforcement entities in Colorado spoken to have relayed the downfall since the legalization. They cite increased crime, driving under the influence of marijuana and illegal sales of marijuana as major pitfalls to the legalization of marijuana.”
That all looks scary, but again muddles some of the facts. To be clear, HB1383 does not legalize cannabis and actually creates a “cannabis evaluation working group” to examine the questions and benefits that legal recreational cannabis would bring to Hawai‘i. Further, Colorado Public Radio reported last year that “No one knows why some crime has ticked up in the state since legalization took root, like auto thefts and even the murder rate, while others have gone down, like property crimes.” If any drug is the problem, CPR found in an analysis of crime data, it’s methamphetamine. Arrests for the drug, which can reasonably be considered more dangerous than cannabis due to addiction potential and behavioral effects, have been up in the state.
Faaumu’s traffic concerns also appear overstated. A 2017 study by the American Journal of Public Health found that “Three years after recreational marijuana legalization, changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization.” What’s more, critics claim that Colorado’s police data inaccurately identifies cannabis-related traffic incidents because THC, an active chemical in cannabis, remains detectable up to a month after consumption. This has caused incidents to be considered cannabis-related when the driver is no longer under the influence of the chemical.
At the end of his testimony, Faaumu seals it with this ‘70s-era throwback bit of rhetoric: “Marijuana is already regulated in Hawaii. Why decriminalize it so those people who have no medical condition are allowed to get ‘high?’ The medical community is also divided on the use of marijuana. With the creation of Marinol, a pharmaceutical drug which gives a patient the benefits of the marijuana plant with very low psychoactive properties, there is no need to ingest marijuana. Many patients opt not to take this drug. Why? They want to get ‘high.’ Marinol has been proven to give the patient appetite and other benefits of marijuana with low psychoactive properties. By decriminalizing the use of marijuana, we are giving the public the go ahead to get ‘high’ without consequence.”
This is where I have to ask, who the hell cares? Cannabis consumption is victimless and has been a part of human culture for millenia. Yes, abuse and addiction happens, but such cases should be treated as public health issues (and there’s evidence that this is a more effective approach). This is a matter of liberty and ending an inequitable, costly, and ineffective drug war rooted in sensationalist, puritanical, and racist arguments.
In the end, I think two sources on opposite ends of the spectrum sum up the failed drug war best:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people… We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
“Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.”
As we go to press HB1383 is scheduled for a Feb. 13 vote in the State House Committee on the Judiciary.
Photo 1 courtesy County of Maui