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Marijuana bill advances in Legislature

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    Marijuana plants at a grow house in Denver are ready to be harvested in this Jan. 26 photo. Now that the drug has been made legal in Washington and Colorado

Hawaii House and Senate judiciary committees are moving forward bills to decriminalize marijuana, curb child prostitution and reform state elections.

The Senate judiciary committee approved a bill today to make the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a civil offense, not a criminal one. Offenders would also pay a $1,000 fine.

Thirteen of the state’s 25 senators co-sponsored the initiative. A separate bill to legalize marijuana in Hawaii died in the House earlier this session.

The state House judiciary committee approved a bill aimed at curbing child prostitution by making it a felony to solicit prostitution from a minor. 

The same committee approved a bill to establish Election Day voter registration in an effort to improve Hawaii’s abysmal voter turnout rate.

Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, says the purpose of the marijuana bill is to assist in reducing the judicial backlog for marijuana criminal cases. Hee says he wants to set the civil fine at $1,000 to emphasize that the drug is still unlawful.  He says that currently people who are criminally prosecuted for marijuana possession pay just an average of $100. 

The Honolulu Police Department testified that the bill would make it harder for officers to enforce the law against marijuana because they won’t be able to arrest offenders and won’t be able to require them to present IDs.

Pamela Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, supports decriminalization of the drug but says that imposing a $1,000 fine on the offense sends out a mixed message.

The House judiciary committee is voting on a proposal this afternoon aimed at improving Hawaii’s voter turnout by allowing people to register to vote on Election Day. The state has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation. 

In addition, the committee is considering a proposal to institute tougher penalties to curb child prostitution. The bill would make solicitation of prostitution a crime and increase the statute of limitations for coercion into prostitution. The proposal is supported by several anti-trafficking organizations but is opposed by the state Office of the Public Defender.

The House judiciary committee is also voting on bills related to leaf blowers and copper wire theft. 

One proposal seeks to make sure the state and counties can’t be sued by people who get electrocuted when trying to steal state- or county-owned copper wire.

Another would limit when people can use leaf blowers. Advocates of the bill say that they are disturbed in their homes by the loud noise from leaf blowers. Members of the landscaping industry oppose the bill and worry about how it would hurt their businesses.

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