The State of Hawaii decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis on Tuesday after an attempt by lawmakers to legalize the recreational use of marijuana failed earlier this year.
Under the measure, House Bill 1383, possession of up to three grams of cannabis will no longer be subject to punishment with time in jail but would instead carry a fine of up to $130. Currently, possession of any amount of cannabis in Hawaii is punishable with up to 30 days behind bars and a fine of up to $1,000. The new law is scheduled to go into effect on January 11, 2020.
Bill Becomes Law Without Governor’s Support
The bill was passed by the Hawaii legislature in May of this year but did not have the support of the state’s governor, Democrat David Ige. At a press conference in June, Ige said that deciding to sign or veto the bill would be a “very tough call.” He eventually did neither, and the bill became law when a deadline to act on the legislation expired on Tuesday.
The governor explained that he believes that the bill could lead to further legislative efforts to decriminalize cannabis “and other mechanisms to make marijuana more available.”
Ige said that he eventually decided to let the bill become law without his signature because of the quantity of cannabis involved. Hawaii’s limit on the amount of cannabis that can be possessed without incurring criminal penalties is the smallest of all 26 states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana so far.
“The amount is very small, when you talk with law enforcement personnel,” Ige said. “Essentially they will proceed the way they always have.”
House Bill 1383 also allows for the expungement of prior criminal convictions for possession of less than three grams of marijuana and establishes a task force to further explore the reform of the state’s penalties and outcomes for marijuana use.
Legalization Bill Fails
Without a process for voter ballot initiatives in the state, any attempts to legalize cannabis in Hawaii must be passed by the legislature. In March, a bill that would have allowed adults 21 and older to legally possess, cultivate, and use marijuana was passed unanimously by Hawaii’s Senate Judiciary Committee. But the bill was killed when the Senate Health Committee failed to act on the measure before a legislative deadline.
Lawmakers in Hawaii legalized the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in 2000, but medical marijuana dispensaries did not open in the state until 2017.