Pubdate: Wed, 17 Mar 2010
Source: Honolulu Weekly (HI)
Copyright: 2010 Honolulu Weekly Inc.
Author: Emily Hobelmann


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.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake