Hawaii Senate committee passes pot bill

Hawaii Senate committee passes pot bill
Published: Feb. 26, 2015 at 9:05 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 27, 2015 at 1:42 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow)

If Senate Bill 879 becomes law, getting busted with an ounce or less of marijuana would no longer be a petty misdemeanor.

"Possessing less than an ounce will be a civil violation. It'll be a fine of $100," Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran said.

Agaran is chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee. On Thursday, the committee heard three marijuana measures. Two were killed. One addressed possession of drug paraphernalia.

"In other states paraphernalia has been sort of a loophole, where you're not arrested for possession of marijuana, but you're arrested for having rolling papers or something like that," said Rafael Kennedy, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum.

In opposing Bill 879, the city prosecutor's office said, "The Legislature will essentially be sending a message to the public -- and to Hawaii's youth -- that illegal possession of this controlled substance is significantly less egregious than crossing a white line while driving."

"We have a problem here. How's the best way to deal with it? It's not to stain somebody's record over this offense" Sen. Sam Slom said.

Police departments statewide said the measure makes light of a criminal act, and the $100 fine is small compared to the street value of an ounce of marijuana that ranges from $250 to $400.

Despite movement of the bill, marijuana advocates call it a "half step." They want a full debate on legalizing pot. Longtime marijuana legalization advocate Roger Christie believes Hawaii should follow Colorado's lead.

"They're having great success with raising tax money, using that for public education. They have research for marijuana now. They eclipse Hawaii. I wish we'd catch up," he said.

"This is one piece of the entire puzzle. At least here we'll know that if you're in possession of an ounce or less you won't be a criminal," Agaran said.

The bill now heads to a vote by the full Senate.

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