Bill to decriminalize pot use criticized

HILO — A hearing on a bill that would abolish nearly all criminal penalties relating to marijuana drew concern Tuesday about the potential side effects of legalization.

Senate Bill 606 is only one of several proposals to loosen or remove state prohibitions on recreational marijuana currently in the state Legislature. However, SB 606 is more bold than most other bills, as it would remove all criminal penalties regarding marijuana save one, and if passed would expunge the criminal record of any incident relating solely to marijuana.


The sole marijuana-related offense that would still exist under SB 606 is the promotion of marijuana to a minor, a new offense added by the bill that would be a Class B felony.

During a hearing before the Hawaii Senate Committee on Public Safety Intergovernmental and Military Affairs, lawmakers heard statements from members of the public and government agencies about the proposed bill. Opinions were mixed.

Honolulu prosecuting attorney Tricia Nakamatsu was firmly against the bill, saying that it appears to be motivated by a false premise.

“I am concerned about what prompted this bill,” Nakamatsu said, explaining that few marijuana offenders face significant jail time unless they cannot post bail. The concerns of the bill’s proponents, who Nakamatsu said are worried that the state over-punishes marijuana offenders, are “simply not true,” she said.

Beyond the bill’s motivation, Nakamatsu found the language of the bill wanting. For example, Nakamatsu pointed out that while the bill criminalizes distributing marijuana to minors, it does not raise the possibility of marijuana-related penalties for the minors themselves. And if marijuana-related incidents are no longer criminal offenses, then minor offenders would not be able to avail themselves of rehabilitative resources made available through family courts.

Nakamatsu also said the proposed process for expunging prior marijuana offense records is ambiguous and clashes with existing methods for expungement.

Meanwhile, Marshall Ando, engineering program manager for the Department of Transportation, said legalizing marijuana will lead to an increase in traffic crashes and fatalities. Ando said Colorado saw a precipitous increase in traffic fatalities since that state legalized the substance in 2012.

While nobody proffered verbal testimony in support of the bill at Tuesday’s hearing, written testimony was more favorable. Several citizens wrote in support of legalization, as did the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, which argued that criminalization of marijuana disproportionately harms the state’s Native Hawaiian and Filipino communities.

“It is therefore of the essence that any legalization program include the types of social justice policies pioneered in other states, and represented in this bill by the expungement provisions,” wrote Carl Bergquist, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum.


SB 606 is one of the first marijuana bills this session to reach a public hearing. House Bill 1383, which would decriminalize certain offenses and expunge prior marijuana criminal records, was similarly contentious at a hearing on Monday, while SB 686, which would legalize for personal use small amounts of marijuana, drew hundreds of pages in support and opposition on Jan. 31.

Committees will decide the fates of HB 1383 and SB 686 on Friday. No decision about SB 606 has yet been made.

  1. KonaDude February 6, 2019 8:13 am

    Criminalization of financial crimes disproportionately harms the state’s affluent and educated

  2. briala February 6, 2019 8:19 am

    Sure, everyone is probably better off not doing pot. But is anyone really better off for having a government that thinks it can force its way on personal behavior?

    How would the total bad impacts to society from joint smokers left alone stack up vs the current total bad impacts of jailing otherwise peaceful people (some for “significant jail time” because they “cannot post bail” – have you no heart?!?); of intentionally poisoning crops knowing that poison will end up in our kids bodies anyway; of flying helicopters over neighborhoods in ludicrous enforcement exercises; and on wasting serious money sorely needed for other public good on policing, litigating, and jailing all for what is tilting at a windmill. The many tax increases over the past two years alone have probably done more harm to more people than joints have, where’s the war on those.

  3. Sara Steiner-jackson February 6, 2019 8:31 am

    Keep on racketeering that cannabis…. the State of Hawaii has already approved it as medicine for infants and anyone over the age of 18 is allowed to grow it – IT IS A PLANT PEOPLE – law enforcement should be focusing on violent crimes and property theft and bad drugs like meth and ice…..

  4. ypupule February 6, 2019 8:46 am

    “Marshall Ando (DOT)… said legalizing marijuana will lead to an increase in traffic crashes and fatalities… (and that) Colorado saw a precipitous increase in traffic fatalities since that state legalized the substance in 2012.”

    Interesting — directly contradicts what I’ve been finding when I search the topic. As just one example: “American Journal of Public Health (AJPH)… found no increase in vehicle crash fatalities in Colorado and Washington, relative to similar states, after legalization.”

    Why the discrepancies? Is it how one chooses to interpret the data?

    1. Dave Thompson February 6, 2019 9:53 am

      Or who is paid to collect and interpret the data… Often if you HIRE someone to do a study, it conveniently comes out the way the one who pays, wants it to.

    2. KonaDude February 6, 2019 10:50 am

      I didn’t think they had a roadside THC test at that time, so they couldn’t blame it on pot for sure(.Y.)

      1. ypupule February 6, 2019 3:53 pm

        Interesting point. But it seems like they were simply looking for any increase in fatalities that correlated with the timing of legalization, even if they couldn’t prove causation. If they didn’t find any increase per the AJPH study, then that would appear to nullify even the possibility that pot use was a factor (all other things being equal, of course).

  5. sonneofmanisrael February 6, 2019 9:41 am

    The legislature hates freedom and liberty is not a value to them.

  6. Joe Joe February 6, 2019 1:59 pm

    FACT ! Tourism would boom !

  7. joedriver February 6, 2019 6:44 pm

    Almost everyone does it Don’t admit it, but does it or did it. Fed lied for decades about the effects of it now that the truth is out states are legalizing it. It should be decriminalized. Sad story that early uses received hard jail time while murderers and rapists ran free

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