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Hawaii Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

The Hawaii House of Representatives last week approved legislation to expand the state’s decriminalization of marijuana, only three days after a bill to legalize recreational cannabis in the state was killed for this year by House leaders.

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The House voted on Friday to approve the pot decriminalization bill, SB2487, on its third reading. The chamber approved the bill with amendments, sending it back to the Hawaii Senate, where the measure was approved by a vote of 24-1 on March 5. To become law, the Senate must pass the amended version of the bill, which must then be signed by Democratic Gov. Josh Green.

The Hawaii House of Representatives has approved a bill to more broadly decriminalize possession

If passed into law, the bill would decriminalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of cannabis concentrates. Instead of jail time for such offenses, the bill sets a maximum fine of $25. Under current Hawaii law, possessing more than 3 grams of marijuana is a criminal misdemeanor carrying penalties of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

“Heavily fining or putting people in jail for possession of some small amount simply serves to impair people to hold a job, get loans, things you need to advance in society,” Democratic Sen. Chris Lee, one of the bill’s authors, told KAKE, the ABC television affiliate in Honolulu.

“Decriminalizing possession of cannabis is something that is a big step forward.”

Possession of larger amounts of cannabis will still be a misdemeanor under SB2487, although the penalties for such offenses are reduced by the measure. The bill also creates a new offense for smoking marijuana in a public area that carries a fine of up to $130.

Pot Legalization Bill Killed Last Week

On April 2, leaders in the House of Representatives killed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in Hawaii, citing potential harmful impacts and more pressing legislative priorities.

The legislation, SB3335, is dead for 2024 after House Finance Chair Kyle Yamashita announced that the measure would not get another hearing this legislative session.

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The bill had bipartisan support in the Hawaii Senate, where it was approved by a vote of 19-6 in early March. The measure was more controversial in the House, however, where members feared negative consequences from legalizing adult-use cannabis. In a statement explaining his decision not to schedule more hearings on the bill, Yamashita said he did not think the bill could survive a vote in the chamber and cited other priorities for the state, including the ongoing response to the devastating Maui wildfire that destroyed much of Lahaina in August 2023.

“We recognize that now is not the opportune time for its implementation, as we navigate the challenges of managing the largest wildfire recovery efforts in Hawaiʻi’s history,” Yamashita wrote, according to a report from Hawaii News Now.

Although the recreational marijuana legalization bill will not become law this year, cannabis policy reform advocates acknowledged the progress being made with the bill to more broadly decriminalize pot in Hawaii.

“On the heels of legalization dying for the year, it’s encouraging to see the legislature at least move to reduce the number of lives turned upside down by cannabis prohibition by expanding Hawaii’s paltry decriminalization law,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement to Marijuana Moment. “Every year, hundreds of Hawai’i residents are arrested for personal use quantities, creating criminal records that make it difficult to get a housing and jobs. It’s long past time Hawai’i stop ruining lives over cannabis possession.”


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