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Senate votes to decriminalize marijuana, raise minimum wage

By Anita Hofschneider

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 6:07 p.m. HST, Mar 5, 2013

The state Senate has voted unanimously to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. 

In another vote today, senators approved a proposal to raise the minimum wage.

The proposals now go to the House for consideration.

The marijuana bill creates a civil violation for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. Lawmakers added a $1,000 fine to emphasize that the use of marijuana is still illegal despite the shift from the criminal to the civil realm.

Sen. Clayton Hee says the bill is designed to reduce the backlog in the criminal justice system.

Law enforcement officials oppose the bill and say that decriminalization would make it harder to enforce the law against the drug.

A related bill to legalize the drug died in the House earlier this session.

The Hawaii state Senate has approved a proposal to raise the state minimum wage. 

The other bill would gradually increase minimum wage to $9.25 in two years and fix the wage to the consumer price index starting in 2016. 

The House passed a less ambitious proposal, raising the wage to $9 by 2017. The House proposal passed today is rolled into a larger bill that deals with unemployment benefits. 

Proponents say the bill would help Hawaii residents keep up with the rising cost of living.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom voted against the initiative. He says that raising the minimum wage increases unemployment.

Sen. Malama Solomon supported the measure but says she is concerned about fixing the wage to the consumer price index.

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