Marijuana decriminalization bill runs into opposition, remains alive

Apr. 4—While the push to legalize recreational marijuana again appears dead at the state Legislature, a bill remains alive that one lawmaker said would "essentially " have the same effect by allowing a citation and fine of only $25 for having up to 2 ounces of cannabis—or 100 to 120 joints.

While the push to legalize recreational marijuana again appears dead at the state Legislature, a bill remains alive that one lawmaker said would "essentially " have the same effect by allowing a citation and fine of only $25 for having up to 2 ounces of cannabis—or 100 to 120 joints.

The latest version of Senate Bill 2487, however, ran into resistance during a vote of the full House on Wednesday, suggesting potential trouble ahead similar to what doomed legal recreational marijuana.

Fifty of the 51 House members were present Wednesday and 15 of them—both conservative Republicans and some progressive Democrats—announced they would vote against advancing SB 2487 for a required third reading.

By comparison, only five Democrats said publicly they would vote for SB 2487. Six other Democrats said they had reservations.

Any bill that becomes law must have three readings in both the House and Senate.

On Tuesday, House Finance Chair Kyle Yamashita announced that he would not hold a committee vote on SB 3335, which would legalize recreational marijuana, all but killing it this year.

In a statement Tuesday, Yamashita foreshadowed what could happen to what's been called "the other marijuana bill, "

SB 2487 : Yamashita said his decision over SB 3335 was "strengthened by the prevailing 'no' votes from committee members expressed on the House floor."

Opposition to SB 2487 on Wednesday came from Rep. Scot Matayoshi, (D, Kaneohe-­Maunawili ), who called a $25 citation for carrying the equivalent of 100 to 120 joints "just far too much to decriminalize."

The fine, or two hours of community service, "essentially " legalizes marijuana in Hawaii, Matayoshi said.

"This is simply too much for us to bear, " he said.

Anyone carrying, say, "100 toothbrushes " would be presumed to be intending to sell them, not posses for personal use, Matayoshi said.

Rep. Lisa Kitagawa, (D, Kaaawa-Kahaluu-Kaneohe ), said "this bill sends the wrong message to the public, especially our youth by allowing 2 ounces of marijuana to essentially be legalized. We're pretty much saying that it's OK, that it's not wrong to use marijuana and it's an OK substance to have."

Rep. Sean Quinlan, (D, Waialua-Haleiwa-Punaluu ), voted with reservations after telling his colleagues, "I don't know that we're actually solving a problem with this measure."

But Rep. David Tarnas, (D, Hawi-Waimea-Waikoloa ), quoted testimony from the state Office of the Public Defender, which supports SB 2487 :

"Government resources should not be wasted arresting and prosecuting marijuana consumers. Unlike dangerous, illicit drugs like cocaine or crystal methamphetamine, marijuana has proven medical and health benefits and can be used safely. The FDA has recommended rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug because it meets three criteria : a lower potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use treatment in the U.S. and a risk of low or moderate physical dependence in people who abuse it. There has never been a confirmed cannabis overdose death. Spending taxpayer dollars for criminal prosecution of marijuana is simply a waste of resources that can be better spent focusing on more serious offenses."

Supporters and opponents of SB 2487 represent some of the same agencies, departments and organizations that squared off over this year's fight to make Hawaii the 25th state to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.

SB 3335, which would have legalized recreational marijuana, also began in the Senate and at the midpoint of the legislative session crossed over to the House before stalling Tuesday.

Among others, SB 2487 faced opposition from the state Attorney General, Honolulu Police Department and Honolulu Prosecutor Steve Alm, who expressed "strong opposition " in written testimony.

"We now know that the marijuana of today is not the marijuana of the past, when marijuana had a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC ) content of about 3 %, " Alm wrote. "Today, marijuana stores sell marijuana with 20 %-40 % THC with extract concentrates over 90 %. It is a different drug entirely.

"If one gram of marijuana represents two to three marijuana cigarettes, or joints, then the bill would require a minimum of 60 joints for Promoting a Detrimental Drug in the Second Degree, a misdemeanor, and up to 30 joints for Promoting a Detrimental Drug in the Third Degree, a violation, " Alm wrote. "Current statutory limits of three grams is personal use ; fifteen grams, or 30 + joints, is dealer quantity."

The state Attorney General cited the possibility of increased traffic accidents and other health risks and wrote in opposition that, "By allowing individuals to possess larger amounts of marijuana, law enforcement officers may not be able to distinguish between the possession of marijuana by recreational users who tend to carry only enough marijuana to fulfill their immediate needs, and individuals who are distributing marijuana or holding quantities sufficient for distribution. Decriminalizing up to fifteen grams of marijuana essentially decriminalizes the possession of sufficient quantities of marijuana to accommodate distribution. An unintended consequence of this bill would be that it makes it easier and more profitable to distribute black market marijuana."

HPD Maj. Mike Lambert of the narcotics /vice division wrote that there will likely be more impaired drivers on the road and marijuana would be more available to juveniles.