In January, 19 of our 25 state senators joined together to introduce Senate Bill 2450, a measure to decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. If the measure makes it all the way to becoming law, you’ll be looking at what amounts to a traffic ticket and a fine if you get busted with a personal stash.
The bill’s sponsors say enactment will save money across the board, primarily in police, jail and court costs. A similar law has been in effect in Massachusetts since 2009.
After the bill’s introduction on the Senate floor, it went to the Judiciary and Government Operations committee for a public hearing and vote. The five-person committee unanimously approved the bill after amending the proposed fine amount ($300 for the first time you’re caught with less than an ounce, up from $100 in the initial draft). The full Senate promptly approved the amended bill by a large majority (22 ayes, three nays).
The proposal now faces a parallel process in the House of Representatives–readings, a committee hearing, potential modifications and a vote. As of press time, the bill has passed the first reading on the House Floor and sits in the hands of the House Judiciary Committee. The committee–or individual members of the House–may propose changes to the bill, and no matter what, both the House and the Senate must agree on a draft before the bill advances to Governor Linda Lingle’s desk.
Jeanne Ohta, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, a decriminalization advocacy group, seems hopeful for continued smooth advancement of the bill, saying that this is the “best time ever [to decriminalize] because of the economic situation, where there’s a concern for priorities and reallocating resources.” Ohta declined to comment on whether she thinks the bill will realistically make it into law anytime soon, saying only, “We are more optimistic than ever.”
Peter Carlisle, prosecuting attorney for the City and County of Honolulu, opposes the bill, saying, “We’ve got enough problems with other legalized substances, particularly alcohol and prescription drugs. We don’t need to add marijuana to the mix.” Asked whether he thought decriminalization could become a reality this year, Carlisle, like Ohta, declined to hazard a guess.
Don’t go lighting up a doobie in the street just yet.