A Coalition to Reform Hawaii's Marijuana Laws
House Bill 699 to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol has stalled in the 2013 legislature
The House Committee on the Judiciary met for decision making on Tuesday, 2/12/13. On the agenda was House Bill (HB) 699, modeled after the successful voter initiative in Colorado. HB 699 would have removed criminal and civil penalties for marijuana possession, and established a “tax and regulate” system for marijuana similar to that used for alcohol. The Committee chose to “defer” HB 699, effectively stalling it for the remainder of 2013. The bill remains live and could be taken up again in 2014.
Pamela Lichty, President of the Drug Policy Action Group (“DPAG”) said: “Hawaiiʻs voters have spoken clearly and strongly – they want to reform our marijuana laws. Polling shows voters overwhelmingly want a fresh approach focused on smart spending, and improved public health and safety. Specifically, voters want to focus law enforcement resources on stopping violent crime and hard drugs – instead of on low-level marijuana enforcement. While we had hoped HB 699 would pass in 2013, we are working on this issue for the long haul. It’s early in the session and anything could happen. The Drug Policy Action Group and our allies in the Fresh Approach Hawaii coalition will now turn our attention to the live bills to reform marijuana laws in Hawaii”.
A recent poll commissioned by DPAG shows a groundswell of support for marijuana legalization over a similar poll conducted in 2005. 57% of Hawaii voters favor legalize, tax and regulate strategy for marijuana, up 20% from 2005. A companion report by an independent economist shows that Hawaii right now spends over $9 M per year – over $24K per day – on the arrest and prosecution of low-level marijuana possession. The report further conservatively estimates that a state like Hawaii could generate new revenue – at least $11M per year – from regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol, similarly to Colorado and Washington State. This data is clearly not lost on the legislature. A total of twenty one bills introduced this session relate to reforming Hawaii’s marijuana laws and/or improving its medical marijuana program.
Vanessa Chong, Executive Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii (“ACLU”) said: “Hawaii still has an opportunity to pass more effective law enforcement policies. A single arrest for marijuana is a lifetime stigma that limits one’s opportunities . These laws continue to devastate the lives of individuals, especially those who are poor and people of color. The ACLU will continue to assertively make the case for sensible and responsible reforms. Legislative measures that remove criminal penalties for marijuana would be a good first-step in this direction”.
The Drug Policy Action Group and the ACLU of Hawaii have teamed up to form two new organizations to engage and educate locally: Fresh Approach Hawaii (www.freshapproachhawaii.org) for legalization and decriminalization activists and the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii (www.mcchi.org)