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Saturday, December 20, 2014         

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Decriminalizing pot possession gets hearing

Cutting court costs is the aim of a bill that will be discussed today

By B.J. Reyes

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A bill aiming to reduce the costs of combating marijuana on the streets and in the courts by decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug will be heard by two legislative committees today.

Possession of one ounce or less of marijuana would be considered a civil violation similar to a traffic ticket and subject to a fine of $100 under the bill.

It was introduced by Sen. J. Kalani English and co-sponsored by 19 of his 24 Senate colleagues.

"The Legislature finds that certain state policies should be revised in response to our current economic climate," the preamble to the bill states. "The Legislature finds that in Hawaii, as in these other areas, the benefits of establishing a civil violation for the possession of small amounts of marijuana far outweigh the benefits of the current criminal treatment of this offense."

Similar laws are on the books in 18 states, either statewide or at municipal levels, with studies indicating that those jurisdictions "have not suffered negative consequences," the bill states.

The measure is scheduled to be discussed at 3 p.m. by a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Labor and Health committees.

Treating simple possession of an ounce or less of marijuana as a civil matter would free clerks, judges and other court officers for more pressing matters, said Sen. Clayton Hee, Judiciary chairman.

"We're looking at what ultimately, the data shows, has ended up as a fine anyway, not jail time," said Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe). "Courts have indicated that to get to a fine, in terms of personnel costs to the Judiciary, costs more than the fine itself.

"It seemed like a reasonable consideration for us to deliberate."

Sen. Josh Green, Health Committee chairman, says marijuana has been shown to be of some benefit to cancer patients and others with chronic pain, nausea and loss of appetite, and should be treated as such.

"As both a physician and a legislator, I feel that marijuana should still be classed as a controlled substance and restricted to proven medical uses under a doctor's supervision," said Green (D, Milolii-Waimea).

Among the provisions of Senate Bill 1460, defendants caught with less than an ounce of marijuana would not be required to undergo substance abuse treatment, and such possession would not constitute intent to distribute.






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