Tuesday senators unanimously passed a bill that would make marijuana possession a civil fine, not a crime.
Hawaii senators took a big step towards erasing the crime out of marijuana possession.
But made one thing very clear.
“Smoking marijuana is still illegal,” said Sen. Clayton Hee, (D) Kaneohe, Laie, Waialua.
On the senate floor today, unanimous approval of the bill that would make it a civil violation if you’re caught with an ounce or less of marijuana.
“What it does is save the court backlog system, according to a study done, of $9 million,” Sen. Hee said.
Those caught would be hit with a $1,000 fine.
“So why not send a measure to the house with the highest, hoping the house would now have something to work with,” said Sen. J. Kalani English, (D) Hana, Upcountry Maui.
But the Honolulu Police Department wants marijuana possession to remain a petty misdemeanor. They say turning it into a civil violation could create problems.
“For example, an officer trying to issue a citation for marijuana, if the person doesn’t have identification, it becomes difficult to enforce because a person could give a false name,” said Major Jerry Inouye with the Honolulu Police Dept.
HPD also says of the 30,000 arrests they made last year, only 19 were for petty misdemeanor marijuana use. So they don’t believe it will help any kind of backlog in the court system, like some supporters believe.
The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney also opposes the bill, “given the strong potential for widespread abuse and negative effects on the community.”
But the majority of the people we talked to, support the bill.
“It’s not really a criminal thing just for an ounce,” said Ken Asato, Kalihi resident.
“It’s an illegal drug, but it’s not a gateway drug like people say,” said Kelsey Robb, Makiki resident.
“If government wants to eliminate the problem, they should do it the way they always do it, they should legalize it, license it, and then tax it. And pretty soon, no one can afford to make a profit out of it, and it would disappear,” said Bruce Piel, Waikiki resident.
The discussion now heads to the House where a similar bill died earlier this session.
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