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Marijuana decriminalization bill advances after pot legalization bill dies

By Paul Drewes

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    HONOLULU (KITV) — While a marijuana legalization bill will die this legislative session, another “pro-pot” bill is still alive.

That measure aims to further decriminalize possession of cannabis in Hawaii.

Currently possession of a small amount of marijuana results in a fine NOT a criminal charge.

“Right now it is $130 fine, for possession of 6 joints or three grams – that is decriminalized,” stated Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm.

Possession of up to an ounce of pot could get you a petty misdemeanor charge and a criminal record.

“Heavily fining or putting people in jail for possession of some small amount simply serves to impair people to hold a job, get loans, things you need to advance in society,” said Senator Chris Lee, one of the authors of a bill that would further decriminalize possession of marijuana.

It would reduce the fine to $25 and increase the amount people would be allowed to have – up to one ounce.

“Decriminalizing possession of cannabis is something that is a big step forward,” added Lee.

He says it is a big step toward legalization.

Alm counters the current decriminalization bill advancing at the State Capitol doesn’t have safeguards suggested in the now dead legalization bill.

“It sends the wrong message. It is like legalization on the cheap. It is a black market increase bill. You are encouraging people to use, and that will make the black market grow,” added Alm.

Other lawmakers weighed in, during debates Wednesday on the State House floor. Some worried about the big increase in possession amounts – going from 6 joints up to 60.

“What we are doing is allowing people to carry enough marijuana to sell it, and with the $25 fine it makes it commercially viable as well,” stated Representative Scot Matayoshi.

“I think our current level of criminalization is sufficient, and i don’t think we are solving anything with this measure,” added Representative Sean Quinlan.

Alm says Honolulu has seen a decrease in people being charged for misdemeanor pot possession.

“There is less as time goes on. If someone gets arrested for something else they may get charged, but it is the felonies that count,” added Alm.

Supporters of the bill said it would also allow police to crack down on a current problem people have with possession: smoking in a public place.

“This actually provides a measure to allow police officers to enforce against people found smoking marijuana in a public place,” stated Representative Della Au Belatti.

Those caught could be fined up to $130 dollars.

The measure passed a second reading in the house, and is two steps away from a final reading this legislative session.

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