Hawaii Decriminalizes Cannabis

Although medical cannabis was legal in Hawaii, recreational use was punishable by law.

Romantic couple walking on the beach during sunset. Location Hawaii. IStock / kieferpix

Hawaii recently decriminalized recreational cannabis.

The Aloha state legalized medical marijuana back in 2017, but recreational use remained illegal throughout the state, a criminal offense and punishable by jailtime.

The bill, HB1383, reclassifies marijuana use as a civil offense in the state of Hawaii. With the passage of HB1383, anyone caught with under three grams of marijuana will owe a $130 fine.

Governor David Ige, Hawaii

Governor David Ige, Hawaii

Hawaii Governor David Ige declined to sign the bill, however, the deadline for a veto from Gov. Ige passed on Tuesday last week, making it official.

Gov. Ige went “back and forth on decriminalization” before making his final decision to abstain.

Last month, said Gov. Ige, “We continue to learn from other states about the problems they see with recreational marijuana, and most of the governors that I talk to that have recreational laws have acknowledged significant problems with those measures.”

One major goal of this legislation is to expunge the records of those who have already been charged for possession of a small amount of cannabis. This is an important change in policy for residents of Hawaii. Previously, those charged with possession of a small amount of cannabis faced jail time and much higher financial penalties.

Decriminalization is good news overall, however, three grams of cannabis is not really that much. In fact, single joint of cannabis can weigh a gram or more. Compare this to other states which have already decriminalized possession of up to several ounces of marijuana.

Nonetheless, the bill has significant implications for those Hawaii residents that may avoid jailtime as a result of its passage.

According to the wording of the bill, which you can read for yourself in its entirety here, HB1383 is intended to accomplish the following goals:

“1) Provide for the expungement of criminal records pertaining solely to the possession of three grams or less of marijuana; 2) Decriminalize the possession of three grams or less of marijuana and establish that possession of that amount is a violation punishable by a monetary fine of $130; and 3) Establish a marijuana evaluation task force to make recommendations on changing marijuana use penalties and outcomes in the State.”

Road through the heart of the Hawaii island with palms all around it

iStock / Ingus-Kruklitis

As of July 2019, thirty-three states have successfully passed bills giving access to medical cannabis to patients with qualifying health conditions.

Including Hawaii, a total of 26 states have now officially decriminalized marijuana, without fully legalizing.

Nine other states, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational use of marijuana as well, including Alaska, California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

According to a statement put out by the Marijuana Policy Project following the recent passage of HB1383, “Unfortunately, three grams would be the smallest amount of any state that has decriminalized (or legalized) simple possession of marijuana. Still, removing criminal penalties and possible jail time for possession of a small amount of cannabis is an improvement.”

Similarly, said Deputy Director for the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), Troy Smit, “While any progress is great, this stands to be the least progressive decriminalization statute, among states with them, in the whole.”

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