Pubdate: Wed, 30 Mar 2016
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2016 Star Advertiser
Author: Kevin Dayton


A House Resolution Requests a Study of Portugal, Which Stopped 
Prosecuting Users

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives want to study whether it 
would be feasible or wise to decriminalize possession of small 
quantities of illicit drugs for personal use in Hawaii.

House lawmakers Tuesday passed House Concurrent Resolution 127, which 
requests that the state Legislative Reference Bureau study the 
experience of Portugal. That European nation officially abolished all 
criminal penalties for possession of drugs for personal use in 2001.

Portugal still prosecutes major drug traffickers, but has made 
possession of small amounts of drugs an administrative violation that 
is handled without any criminal prosecutions. People who are caught 
with small quantities of drugs may be fined, referred to drug 
treatment or required to do community service.

The resolution was co-introduced by state Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole 
along with House Speaker Joe Souki (D, Waihee-WaiehuWailuku) and 
House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke (D, Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuuanu), 
meaning it has significant political clout behind it.

Keohokalole (D, Kahaluu-Ahuimanu-Kaneohe) said he isn't sure 
decriminalization is right for Hawaii, but said he wants to know more 
about that approach to the drug problem.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, studied the result of 
decriminalization in Portugal seven years ago and found it was "a 
resounding success," he said. Portugal has the lowest drug addiction 
rates in the European Union, which is being attributed to the 
decriminalization framework, Keohokalole said.

"They were able to take resources that they had previously devoted to 
the criminal (justice) system and reallocate them toward treatment 
and other social services," Keohokalole said. "Ultimately, the war on 
drugs in America is not working. It's not working in Hawaii."

The resolution cites the annual survey by the federal Substance Abuse 
and Mental Health Services Administration, which found that in 2013 
an estimated 24.6 million people, or more than 9 percent of the 
population, had used an illicit drug within the previous month.

Keohokalole also said he believes other community issues in his 
district such as homelessness are related to the drug issue. "They 
sent me here to look into new ideas, and we've been fighting this 
drug war for over 40 years and it's not working," he said.

Rep. Andria Tupola (R, Kalaeloa-Ko Olina-Maili) voted against the 
resolution and said she has questions about the conclusions reached 
by the Cato Institute study.

She also questioned whether lawmakers can be certain that the money 
the government would save by reducing drug enforcement would actually 
go into drug treatment or other programs that would help to solve the 
drug problem. "It's just really hard to say that that's going to 
happen in Hawaii," she said. "Maybe, maybe not."

HCR 127 was approved by the House on Tuesday with seven lawmakers 
voting against it, including five Republicans. It now goes to the 
Senate for further consideration.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom