Hawaii Decriminalizes Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana

Hawaii’s new law doesn’t even decriminalize a full eighth of weed.

On the eve of 710, the United State of Hawaii decriminalized cannabis. But Hawaii’s new law has the lowest possession limit among the 22 states (and D.C.) that have decriminalized simple marijuana possession. House Bill 1383, which became law on Tuesday and will take effect on January 11, 2020, doesn’t even decriminalize a full eighth of marijuana. Instead, the bill sets the decriminalization threshold at just three grams or below, making it the most restrictive decriminalization law in the country. But Hawaii’s new decriminalization law does include a pathway to criminal record expungement for anyone with a prior possession conviction, as long as the conviction was for an amount of weed under three grams.

Three Gram Limit Lowest Among Decriminalized States

In response to Hawaii’s decriminalization of certain amounts of cannabis, drug policy reform advocates, like the Marijuana Policy Project, say something is better than nothing. “Unfortunately, three grams would be the smallest amount of any state that has decriminalized (or legalized) simple possession of marijuana,” the advocacy group said in a statement. “Still, removing criminal penalties and possible jail time for possession of a small amount of cannabis is an improvement.”

Under Hawaii’s current laws against marijuana, the charge of possessing even minuscule amounts of cannabis carries a possible jail sentence of 30 days and fines up to $1,000. Under the state’s new decriminalization law, possession of up to three grams will carry just a $30 fine with no possibility of jail time.

Criminal Record Expungement Requires Substance Abuse Treatment Program

Furthermore, HB1383 provides for the expungement of criminal records pertaining solely to the possession of three grams or less of marijuana. Again, that’s less than an eighth of weed. But a closer look at the bill reveals that unlike expungement pathways in other states, most persons with prior possession convictions will have to undergo—and pay for—a substance abuse treatment program. That’s if they haven’t already done so as part of their sentencing or probation.

In short, Hawaii’s decriminalization bill says that to clear your record for possessing less than an eighth of weed, you’d have to successfully complete a substance abuse treatment program. However, in the rare event that a person received a conviction for possessing three grams or less of marijuana and no other criminal charge, such as for using or possessing paraphernalia, that person can file a motion with the courts to expunge their record. Put simply, for most marijuana offenders in Hawaii, expunging their records will be far from a simple and straightforward process.

Hawaii Gov.: Law Enforcement “Will Proceed the Way They Always Have”

Despite broad support among Hawaii voters and some progressive lawmakers on key legislative committees, Democratic Governor David Ige’s administration has remained opposed to significant marijuana policy reforms. In fact, Gov. Ige has a record of vetoing even incremental cannabis reform bills. And it was likely the extremely limited nature of HB1383 that kept Gov. Ige from reaching for his veto stamp this time.

But Gov. Ige didn’t reach for his pen either; he didn’t sign the decriminalization bill into law. But because he didn’t veto it, the bill became law by default on July 9.

At a June press conference, after the Legislature passed the decriminalization bill and sent it to the governor’s desk, Ige described deciding whether or not to veto as “a very tough call.” Ige ultimately withheld the veto because of the tiny quantity of marijuana it decriminalized. Small enough that in Ige’s eyes, nothing would really change. “The amount is very small, when you talk with law enforcement personnel,” Ige said. “Essentially they will proceed the way they always have.”

Drury, ByAdam. “Hawaii Decriminalizes Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana.” Green Rush Daily, 10 July 2019, greenrushdaily.com/politics/legalization/hawaii-decriminalizes-possession-of-small-amounts-of-marijuana/.

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