Yesterday, Hawaii became the 26th state to legalize or decriminalize marijuana.
The new legislation removes the possibility of imprisonment as a penalty for having less than 3 grams of marijuana but maintains a fine of $130. The Democrat-controlled Hawaii legislature approved the bill in May and passed it to Democratic Governor David Ige for signing. The governor didn’t sign or veto the bill, hence effectively letting it become law on July 2.
This new law will take effect starting from January 11, 2020.
In a statement, The Marijuana Policy Project, a cannabis advocacy group, noted that three grams would be the least amount of simple marijuana possession decriminalized by any state. Nevertheless, the group noted that removing criminal penalties for small cannabis possession is still an improvement.
Hawaii’s cannabis decriminalization is different from legalization. Under decriminalization, possessing small amounts doesn’t carry a jail or prison time but can warrant a fine. Possession of larger marijuana quantities, repeat offenses, trafficking, or sales can still lead to harsh sentences. Under legalization, marijuana possession penalties are entirely removed. Nevertheless, sales are typically allowed.
Several legalization opponents see decriminalization as a step towards peeling back the harsh drug possession and criminal justice policies in America. They see policies that are tough on crime as too costly and punitive but are not willing to resort to full cannabis legalization, as they fear this would make marijuana too accessible in the United States, and enable corporations to market and sell the drug to the market irresponsibly.
The legalization advocates’ concern about possession decriminalization is that it still keeps the marijuana-selling ban, which implies that users would not have a legal cannabis source, and criminal organizations would hence still have easy revenue sources that they may use for cruel operations. The fines, although less punitive than prison time, could also cause problems because they’re in many cases applied in racially disparate ways.
Eleven states have already legalized marijuana. Cannabis is also legal in Washington DC even though here, sales are not allowed. Fifteen additional states, including Hawaii, have now decriminalized cannabis.
So far, cannabis legalization has failed to get serious traction in the legislature of Hawaii.
Legalization supporters argue that legal cannabis eliminates the cases of racial disparities behind cannabis arrests, and violent activities facilitated by the illicit marijuana drug cartels. All this, according to legalization supporters, will outweigh the potential shortcomings of increased legal pot use.
In the meantime, opponents claim that cannabis legalization facilitate the rise of a big cannabis industry that will end up selling and marketing the drug irresponsibly. Opponents back their claim by pointing to the nation’s experiences with tobacco and alcohol industries in particular, which have created financial empires in huge parts of the U.S.. This could lead to more persons using cannabis, even though it brings along adverse health consequences.
As of now, Hawaii doesn’t seem ready for legalization, even though it has embraced decriminalization.