On March 3, the Hawaii Senate passed a bill that would get rid of the felony charge for low-level drug possession.
According to Marijuana Moment, anyone with two grams or less of a controlled substance would just be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and any more than that would be a felony. Since only that small amount would be treated differently, this would be considered “defelonization,” not decriminalization. The Senate approved the bill, SD-1, with a 21-4 vote.
The bill claims that “criminal justice policies that impose harsh prison sentences increase incarceration rates and costs, but frequently do not result in a commensurate reduction in crime rates.”
“The legislature further finds that the imposition of incarceration to punish simple, low-level drug possession offenses should be limited in favor of the reduced or alternative sentencing options of misdemeanor classification,” it continues. “This will help reduce prison overcrowding, save taxpayer dollars, and free up resources to be reinvested into more effective treatment programs.”
Nikos Leverenz of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii told Marijuana Moment how he felt about the state moving forward to assist those who have been convicted for cannabis possession: “This measure is an improvement upon existing law, but no person should face criminal consequences for what is effectively the possession of nothing,” Leverenz said. “The law enforcement lobby says that criminalization is a gateway to treatment, but criminalizing a person who may or may not have substance use disorder is simply not beneficial for them or larger society.”
“Perpetuating long cycles of recidivism for drug possession is detrimental to individual and public health,” he added. “Placing persons who have substance use disorder in correctional settings is also highly problematic from a human rights perspective, but many don’t see it that way as drug users have been categorically dehumanized in law and policy for at least a half-century.”