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House snuffs out bill to legalize marijuana in Hawaii

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / SEATTLE TIMESA 30-year-old woman smoked marijuana at a street party in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood after I-502 was approved Nov. 6. Initiative 502 decriminalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana beginning Dec. 6.
    ASSOCIATED PRESS / SEATTLE TIMES
    A 30-year-old woman smoked marijuana at a street party in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood after I-502 was approved Nov. 6. Initiative 502 decriminalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana beginning Dec. 6.

A bill that would have legalized marijuana in Hawaii has died in the state House.

House judiciary committee Chairman Karl Rhoads said Tuesday that he decided to kill the bill after learning from House leadership that the initiative does not have enough votes to pass the House.

Key lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled House supported the measure, including the speaker and the majority leader.

Pamela Lichty, head of the Hawaii Drug Policy Action Group, says the organization is disappointed with the outcome but will continue to advocate for marijuana decriminalization through other measures.

She says that the fact that there were more than 20 marijuana-related bills introduced this year is a sign of public support for the initiative.

She says the organization plans to continue to advocate for bills related to medical marijuana, which is legal in Hawaii.

The proposal that failed Tuesday would have legalized marijuana for recreational use for people aged 21 or older. It can’t be revived until future sessions.

The initiative ignited an outpouring of public testimony that reflected sharply divided public opinion.

At a public hearing on the bill, law enforcement officials told Hawaii lawmakers that marijuana is a dangerous drug.

They said the societal costs of legalizing weed aren’t worth the risks of allowing marijuana culture to proliferate.

Opponents of the bill included the state attorney general, the county police departments and the Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii.

Numerous community members voiced opinions in favor of legalization, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

Proponents said the move would conserve state resources and respect residents’ freedom of choice. 

They said the state’s current law against marijuana disproportionately impacts Native Hawaiians and other minority groups. 

The attempt to legalize the drug for recreational use comes just months after Colorado and Washington passed similar laws. 

Federal law still prohibits possession or distribution of marijuana.

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