A measure to decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana cleared its final committee in the Hawaii Legislature on Friday, as did a bill that would add criminal penalties for driving under the influence of a host of new substances.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 641 would create a new criminal penalty to charge drivers who might be impaired by substances other than alcohol or currently listed narcotics.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a measure Thursday that would decriminalize possessing less than 3 grams of marijuana.
While both measures have cleared committee hearings, they still face floor votes in the House and Senate.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, approved the decriminalization measure that House lawmakers previously called a baby step toward marijuana reform.
The bill would also allow anyone who has been convicted of possessing 3 grams or less of marijuana to apply for expungement. Possessing that amount is currently a petty misdemeanor.
The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii said in written testimony that the current version of the measure doesn’t go far enough. The group suggested decriminalizing possession of up to an ounce of pot.
Senators Sharon Moriwaki and Breene Harimoto voted “no” on the measure. Harimoto said he’s concerned that “people might begin going to work under the influence. Maybe if you’re a teacher, or work at a community center. Until we can address those issues. I’ll have to vote no.”
Moriwaki said she’d like to see a task force study decriminalization before changing the law.
The $30 fine is less than what House Democrats proposed in March. Rep. Chris Lee, who wrote the bill, made an amendment last month to establish a $200 fine for possession of 3 grams or less.
Lee said he’d have to check with other House members regarding whether they want to accept the Senate’s amendments.
If drivers are caught with substances other than alcohol or illegal narcotics in their systems, they could still face petty misdemeanor charges under a proposed bill.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Lee’s House Judiciary Committee also approved a bill that would create a new criminal penalty for driving while impaired by substances other than alcohol or drugs on schedules 1-4 of Hawaii’s Uniformed Controlled Substances Act.
The penalty would be piloted for three years before the Legislature re-evaluates it.
SB 641 would allow prosecutors to charge drivers with substances found in their system with a potential offense equal to a petty misdemeanor.
In Hawaii, that could mean up to 30 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
The bill’s original language would have expanded the substances that drivers could be convicted for under Hawaii’s impaired driving law.
The new draft of the bill creates an offense separate from the DUI law to make sure people who aren’t abusing drugs are not caught by the intoxicated driving law’s heavier penalties.
“We’ll have some form of deterrent on the books,” Lee said after the committee hearing Friday afternoon. “I think it’s important we don’t unduly trap people who might be driving with a little bit of NyQuil in their system from the night before.”
The bill will also move forward with provisions that police collect data on toxicology reports.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell