If you thought medical marijuana dispensaries were the next big change in Hawaii’s drug policy, state lawmakers might have a surprise for you.

A proposal to study the possibility of decriminalizing all drugs in Hawaii for personal use recently cleared the House Committee on Judiciary on a 7-1 vote.

The resolution says that “despite a longstanding policy that enforces illicit drug use and imposes some of the world’s harshest penalties for drug use and sales,” a 2013 study found that U.S. drug use continues to increase.

The resolution also pointed to statistics that showed 9.4 percent of U.S. citizens 12 years and older had used a drug in the past month, which is up from 8.3 percent in 2002.

A 2014 study cited in the resolution found that most people charged with drug crimes also had substance abuse issues.

The proposal argued that by offering treatment instead of time behind bars, the bill would serve as a solution to Hawaii’s overcrowded prisons.

Portugal could serve as a model for Hawaii’s decriminalization strategy, according to the resolution.

When Portugal became the first European country to decriminalize drugs in 2001, the country saw a decrease in drug use, lifetime abuse, drug trafficking convictions and drug-related death rates by 2009, according to the resolution.

The 2009 follow-up study also found that the money Portugal saved on enforcing drug crimes translated into more funding for substance abuse treatment programs.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs submitted testimony in support of the resolution and said the War on Drugs had caused Hawaii’s prison population to rise to an all-time high — and 40 percent of that population is comprised of Native Hawaiians, OHA wrote.

Next up, the resolution faces a House floor vote.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are expected to open this summer in Hawaii.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are expected to open this summer in Hawaii. Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

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