2020’s off to an explosive start as Hawaii officially decriminalizes marijuana possession. On Saturday, Jan. 11, a bill to decriminalize low-level cannabis possession that passed both the House and Senate went into effect. Gov. David Ige (D) allowed the bill to pass without his signature. The bill removes jail time for individuals who possess three grams of marijuana. Instead, they’d be given a $130 fine.
No Jail Time For Low-Level Possession
Hawaii officially joined a long line of states that have decriminalized marijuana. Hawaii removes any criminal penalties and jail time for possession of under three grams, the lowest amount of any state with decriminalization laws. Currently, possession of more than three grams, but less than an ounce gets you 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The decriminalization bill also intends to expunge criminal records for cases of marijuana possession of three grams or less. The bill establishes a marijuana evaluation task force to study and make recommendations on amending cannabis use penalties and results.
The Current State of Cannabis in Hawaii
Currently, cannabis is illegal for recreational use. Medical marijuana laws have been around since 2000. Under the medical cannabis program, medical cardholders can cultivate their own plants. In 2015, medical dispensaries were legalized. Retailers began selling medicinal products in 2017. Hawaii has also gone to great lengths to expand the medical marijuana program.
In 2017, Hawaii added more medical issues to the list of qualifying conditions including epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. In 2019, Hawaii also let visitors legally buy medical cannabis. Travelers can apply for a $49.50 medical card to purchase up to four ounces of marijuana at licensed retailers.
Gov. Ige Vetoes Cannabis Reform Bills
Gov. Ige has been a force of opposition to multiple pieces of marijuana legislation throughout 2019. In July 2019, Ige vetoed two marijuana-related bills. One bill allowed for inter-island transportation of cannabis and the other would set-up an industrial hemp licensing program. Gov. Ige feared some provisions in the bill “might not be consistent with federal rules and regulations.”
Commenting on the inter-island transportation bill, Ige announced: “Marijuana, including medical cannabis, remains illegal under federal law. Both the airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. This bill may lead travelers, acting in reliance on this provision, to erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution.”
On his decision to veto the hemp program bill, Ige said: “There are concerns that this bill creates a licensing structure that cannot be enforced, will not meet USDA requirements for an approved industrial hemp program, and creates practical problems in the enforcement of existing medical cannabis.”
Gov. Ige Steps Back
When it came to Hawaii’s decriminalization, Ige didn’t take action meaning that the bill would take effect without his signature. At a press conference on his veto decisions, Ige mentioned that allowing the marijuana decriminalization bill was “a very tough call” and said he went “back and forth” on the issue.
Ige’s decision not to take action allowed the bill to advance, which was a major departure from his previous stance against cannabis reform. On Jan. 11, Hawaii officially became the 26th state to decriminalize or legalize marijuana. Many states have subsequently approved cannabis legalization for adult use and cultivation.
States with Marijuana Decriminalization
Hawaii’s progressive decriminalization bill is a positive step toward complete legalization in the state. Compared to other state’s decriminalization laws, however, Hawaii has a considerably lower possession threshold. Marijuana decriminalization laws vary by state. Here are the states that have partially or fully decriminalized marijuana:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
2019 was an especially productive year for states who sought to decriminalize cannabis possession. In April, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed a decriminalization bill which decreases penalties for possession of up to half an ounce of cannabis to a $50 fine. In May, North Dakota Gov. Dough Burgum (R) also signed a decriminalization bill. The bill allows first-time offenders caught with half an ounce or less of marijuana to pay a fine of up to $1,000 and receive no jail time.
Decriminalization in 2020
2020 is set to be a big year for cannabis decriminalization. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has called upon lawmakers to decriminalize marijuana possession and clear “the records of people who’ve gotten in trouble for it.” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has also vowed to back a marijuana decriminalization bill ahead of the 2020 election in November.
Hawaii’s move to remove criminal penalties for individuals caught with small amounts of cannabis is a major step for cannabis reform in the state. Cannabis advocates may not be satisfied with the minor victory, but legalization efforts across the country, and possible federal reform, may prompt Hawaiian lawmakers to step it up in 2020.
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