HONOLULU, HI — A marijuana decriminalization bill aimed at reducing minor marijuana possession offenses to a non-criminal, $100 fine-only offense was given approval Tuesday by a Senate committee to advance to the floor of the full Senate for a vote.
Members of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 472, which establishes a civil violation for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, with offenders subject to a fine of up to $100. The committee recommended the passage of the bill by a 5-0 vote.
The bill is co-sponsored by thirteen of the state’s 25 senators, and now advances to the floor of the full Senate for a vote.
Currently, the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for non-medical purposes is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana could free up police and judicial resources, and could save state and county governments in Hawaii an estimated $9 million annually according to a University of Hawaii study released in January.
The same study found that arrests for simple marijuana possession have increased by 50% since 2004.
Recent polls show that Hawaii residents, who have been allowed the use of medical marijuana since 2000, strongly support further marijuana law reform. A poll released in January found strong support for decriminalization (58%), medical marijuana dispensaries (78%), and for the existing 13 year old medical marijuana law passed by the legislature in 2000 (81%).
A bill to legalize and regulate the adult possession and recreational use of marijuana in Hawaiidied in a House committee earlier this month.