Drugs draw a crowd at State Capitol

Published On: Mar 27 2013 11:13:00 AM HST

Drugs drew a crowd of police officers to the State Capitol.

Honolulu Police officers took a stand in the Capitol rotunda Wednesday afternoon, over a bill that would decriminalize marijuana.
The bill would allow a fine, instead of an arrest, for up to 20 grams of marijuana. To see just how much that amount makes, Rep. Marcus Oshiro spent Tuesday night, rolling catnip into 47 fake joints.

Each year, police arrest hundreds with the real thing, but officers said residents aren't doing time for their crime. "Marijuana arrests comprise a small portion of HPD arrests. A study by the Attorney General's office found that of 594 people arrested for marijuana possession, only seven spent more than ten days in jail," said Maj. Jerry Inouye with the Honolulu Police Department.

Supporters of decriminalization said the number is higher and so is the cost for lighting up.

"A thousand marijuana arrests are made every year in Hawaii. That is a thousand families lives that could be permanently damaged by the current marijuana law," said Vanessa Chong, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

On average, over a thousand people are arrested each year for marijuana offenses. Those cases only makes up about 20 percent of the drug arrests each year.
Nearly half of those arrested for pot possession are juveniles.

"For decades now, kids have been telling researchers that it is easier to get marijuana than beer," said Pamela Lichty, with the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii.

"One in six youth become addicted or abuse this drug. So it is not a harmless drug like this bill portrays it to be," said Alan Shinn, with the Coalition for a Drug Free Hawaii.

When it comes to addiction treatment, more adults get help for amphetamines or alcohol abuse, but for teens the number one drug they are abusing is marijuana.

Supporters of decriminalization said police will be able to put their resources elsewhere and the state would save money in the courtroom.

"$24,000 is being spent whenever someone interacts with the criminal justice system because of marijuana. That is too great of a cost for Hawaii to pay," said Chong.

Police counter, under the new bill, they will lose a valuable tool in the war on drugs.
"A violation prevents us from arresting people. Those arrested can be properly identified with fingerprints and mugshots," said Inouye.

Without it, Inouye said, police may not be able to accurately track who is using or abusing marijuana.

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