The effort to decriminalize the use and possession of marijuana in Hawaii faced its first committee hearing Friday at the state Capitol. However, a vote on the controversial bill (HB 699) will have to wait.
House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Karl Rhodes announced there would be no vote on the measure since the hearing had gone beyond 2:45 p.m., and neighbor island colleagues on the committee needed to fly back home. Rhodes said a vote would likely take place next Thursday.
Members of Hawaii's law enforcement community, including the Honolulu, Maui and Hawaii County police departments, came out in opposition to the bill, which would allow adults over the age of 21 to use marijuana in private, and possess up to an ounce of the drug. The measure would also allow up to five marijuana plants to be grown in private residences, as long as it was done in a secure location.
Finally, the bill would set-up marijuana cultivation facilities and dispensaries, and allow the state to heavily tax the drug.
Laurie Temple, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, told committee members the state can no longer afford to prosecute citizens for using a drug that should be treated like alcohol.
"Per-pupil spending is down, college tuition is up, social services have been cut left and right, and yet we continue to throw good money after bad and fill our prisons with non-violent drug offenders," said Temple.
The effort to legalize marijuana was introduced by 11 Democratic House lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Souki, Majority Leader Rep. Scott Saiki and Majority Floor Leader Rep. Karen Awana.
A similar bill in the state Senate (SB 738) was introduced by Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz and Michelle Kidani, both Democrats.