Hawaii decriminalization bill dead for this year


Despite overwhelming public support in favor of the decriminalization of cannabis, Hawaii’s SB472, which would have decriminalized small amounts marijuana in that state, was pronounced dead on arrival yesterday without even being granted a roll call for a vote.
Among the most blue of blue states in the nation, and enjoying Democratic Party-held Senate and House chambers as well as the Governor’s seat, Hawaii seemed poised to follow in the footsteps of 15 other U.S. states that have done away with arrests and jail time for low-level marijuana possession busts, opting to issue nominal fines instead.

SB472, in its latest and ultimately fatal iteration, would have written into state law that anyone over the age of 18 who was caught with under 20 grams of pot would be subject to a $100 fine, and avoid any jail time or criminal record. The proceeds of the fines would go into the state’s General Fund, which would be a drop in the bucket compared to what the state could potentially save in prosecution costs.
Sensing a stalemate, proponents of decriminalization even floated the idea of lowering the allowable amount of marijuana carried from 20 grams down to a mere 7 grams, but apparently even that was not enough to sway lawmakers. Instead, the democrats in the Hawaii State Legislature refused to even call a vote on a bill that many of them had previously signed their own name to, citing a lack of support among their colleagues in the House.

Yet, as was pointed out by local cannabis rights advocacy group Fresh Approach Hawaii, 75 percent of voters on all islands polled said that if their state legislator voted in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana, that such a vote would either have no impact on their view of the legislator, or make them more likely to vote for that legislator in the future.
Ignoring poll after poll showing ever-increasing voter support for decriminalization and full recreational legalization similar to what Colorado and Washington achieved last year, legislators instead caved to the same tired arguments from local law enforcement — the bill’s main opponent. They of course leaned heavily on the “It’s still Federally illegal” argument, with a dash of “What about the kids?”, failing to mention that a 2012 study done by the University of Hawaii showed that the prosecution of low-level marijuana possession cases costs the state just under $33,000 per day and $12 million annually.
All but lost in the scramble by Hawaiian Democrats to put their names on legislation they have no intention of ever voting on, is the comedic punch line of SB472 which says, even if passed in its entirety, the law would not take effect until July 1st, 2050. Pass me whatever they’re smoking!
Unlike Colorado or Washington, the Hawaii state constitution has no provision for a statewide referendum, instead jamming such matters through the sausage-grinder that is the state legislature. The overall effect of this form of government is that the undeniable will of the people is easily denied by two-faced politicians who are unwilling to take a stand on anything that may raise a tough question from the media, a primary challenger in an election year, or the scorn of a deep-pocketed lobbyist.
They think that this allows them to propose progressive legislation to prop up their liberal street cred, then shoot those bills down through backroom handshakes and insider deals to avoid ever going on the voting record in favor of them. When it dies they point to the other guy. But in Hawaii, they only have themselves to blame.
The bill can be reintroduced in the next legislative session, in 2014, but will need to start over and work its way back through the same Senate and House where it stalled this week. In the meantime, an adult caught with a pipeful of pakalolo can still face a $1000 fine, 30 days in jail, and the potential hardship and humiliation attached to each.