HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A measure in the state legislature that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana drew dozens of opponents to the State Capitol Wednesday, including officers from the Honolulu Police Department, which is strongly opposed to the proposal.
HPD said it sends the wrong message to young people. "We know that it causes harm in terms of learning problems, and social and psychological problems for young people," said police Maj. Jerry Inouye. "And yet by decriminalizing it, we're telling them it's okay."
The proposal in the House would impose a $100 fine for possession of 20 grams of marijuana, about eight grams shy of an ounce.
State Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D-Wahiawa, Whitmore Village) said that's still a lot of pot. He brought out a 20 gram bag of a marijuana look alike, catnip. "This is what 20 grams of marijuana looks like when rolled up into marijuana cigarettes, or joints," he said, holding up a bag of catnip rolled in cigarette paper. "There are 47 joints in this 20 gram bag. That's a lot of marijuana to legalize."
Oshiro was also critical of the proposed fine. "It's less than a jaywalking ticket. Less than a cell phone violation (while driving). And less than most speeding tickets, for carrying something like this that's considered, under the federal government, illegal," he said.
But Fresh Approach Hawaii, a pro-decriminalization coalition, called the measure a sensible step in the right direction. It contends that more than a thousand people are busted for pot possession in Hawaii each year. "We're spending about $9 million a year for processing each of those individuals through the criminal justice system," said Vanessa Chong, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, which is part of the coalition.
HPD counters that the actual number of arrests is lower. "The study by the attorney general's office showed that out of 594 people arrested for marijuana, only seven spent more than ten days in jail," said Maj. Inouye.
Supporters of the measure also said it is not a pro-drug bill. They said that education also should still play a big role in controlling drug use. "Look at tobacco and how we really lowered dramatically the number of adults and kids that are using tobacco," said Pamela Lichty of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii. "We haven't done that by making it a crime to smoke a cigarette. We've done that through educational efforts."
The measure, S.B. 472, was passed unanimously by the state Senate, and is currently before the House Judiciary Committee.