Pubdate: Sat, 08 Jul 2017
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2017 Star Advertiser
Author: Kevin Dayton


Until Governor David Ige approved the new law, possession of drug
paraphernalia ranging from marijuana pipes to plastic bags and needles
was a felony that carried a penalty of up to five years in prison and
fines of up to $10,000. Now, people caught with drug paraphernalia
would face no jail time and could be fined no more than $500.

Gov. David Ige has quietly signed a new law that dramatically reduces
the penalties for possession of all kinds of drug paraphernalia - a
proposal that was opposed by Attorney General Douglas Chin as well as
prosecutors on Hawaii island, Maui and in Honolulu.

County of Hawaii Prosecutor Mitch Roth called the new Act 72 a ''dumb
law" that will cost the state money in the long run. Roth predicted
the measure will actually have the unintended effect of causing more
people to be sent to prison for drug offenses.

But state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, who introduced the bill, said the
public debate and media coverage of House Bill 1501 this spring
demonstrated it was only some law enforcement officials who opposed
the measure.

"There was no public outcry against its passage," said San
Buenaventura (D, Pahoa-Kala-pana). "The only people who were against
it was not the citizens, it was the prosecutors."

Ige has scheduled a series of public ceremonies and invited media to
watch as he signed less controversial bills into law, but there was no
public signing ceremony for HB 1501 this week. A spokeswoman for Ige
said there was no news release announcing the signing because there
was no indication of great public interest in the new law.

Until Ige approved the new law, possession of drug paraphernalia
ranging from marijuana pipes to plastic bags and needles was a felony
that carried a penalty of up to five years in prison and fines of up
to $10,000. Those penalties for possession of paraphernalia were
adopted in 1988 and were some of the harshest in the nation.

Under the new law, which took effect Monday, people caught with drug
paraphernalia would face no jail time and could be fined no more than

Possession of drug paraphernalia ranging from marijuana pipes to
needles was a felony. Here's how the law changed with Gov. Ige's signature:

The measure was supported by The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, the
American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and the Democratic Party of

San Buenaventura predicted the new law will help to ease jail
overcrowding. People who have been arrested for multiple felonies
generally have higher bail than people with fewer serious charges
against them, and arrestees who face more charges often sit in jail
awaiting trial because they cannot come up with enough money to make
bail, she said.

If those same people have one less felony charge against them, that
improves their chance of posting bail and winning their release while
they await trial, she said.

Nolan Espinda, director of the state Department of Public Safety, said
it will take some time to sort out exactly how the new law will affect
Hawaii's overcrowded prison and jail facilities.

As of January, Public Safety officials reported the state was holding
150 prison inmates and 109 jail inmates in connection with drug
paraphernalia charges, but Espinda said each of those inmates was also
accused or convicted of one or more felony counts that were equally
serious. No one was locked up solely for a drug paraphernalia charge,
he said.

However, Espinda noted the number of felony charges is considered when
bail is being set for detainees, and also when judges impose jail or
prison sentences on convicts. It is also a consideration when the
Hawaii Paroling Authority decides the minimum terms that prison
inmates must serve.

That might mean the new law will help reduce Hawaii's prison and jail
populations, but Espinda said it is too soon to be certain whether
that will be the actual outcome.

Chin predicted in written testimony to lawmakers that changing the
paraphernalia law probably won't do much to reduce the prison population.

Chin argued that a felony paraphernalia charge is rarely filed by
itself. It is far more common that a paraphernalia charge is filed
along with another drug felony such as third-degree possession of a
dangerous drug, which is also punishable by up to five years in
prison, he said in written testimony.

That means most people charged with felony paraphernalia possession
are already facing prison time for another charge, according to Chin.
He added that most people convicted of paraphernalia possession are
not required to serve out the full five-year maximum term unless they
are repeat offenders or have violent criminal histories.

Roth predicted that because of the workings of the plea bargaining
process, the new law will actually cause an increase in the number of
criminal trials and costs for the state.

Some drug possession offenses carry minimum prison terms, and Roth
said prosecutors occasionally agree to dismiss those possession
charges in exchange for a guilty plea to a paraphernalia charge, which
has no minimum term. The prosecutor can then use those paraphernalia
convictions to put offenders on probation and send them to drug
treatment rather than jail, he said.

However, if there is no paraphernalia charge, the prosecutor will
pursue the possession charge, he said. And since those possession
charges might carry mandatory prison time, more defendants will take
their cases to trial to try to avoid prison, he said.

"They'll go to trial, which is going to cost the state a lot of money,
(and) there will be appeals because we'll get convictions, which will
cost the state a lot of money," Roth said. "You will not reduce
anybody from going to prison. If that's what they were trying to do,
it really does nothing."

Roth said drug paraphernalia charges generally are not filed in cases
involving marijuana, so the issue isn't the use of cigarette rolling
papers. "We're charging it with hard drugs," he said.

San Buenaventura said another concern was that leaving the old
paraphernalia law in place would have a "chilling effect" on the
state's medical marijuana dispensaries. The dispensaries will not be
allowed to sell edible marijuana products, so users will need some
sort of paraphernalia to use their marijuana, she said.
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