If Gov. David Ige follows President Joe Biden’s lead and pardons people in Hawaii convicted of minor marijuana crimes, he could clear the criminal records of many who have been denied opportunities due to having a drug conviction hanging over their heads, according to Honolulu Prosecutor Steve Alm.

“President Biden’s pardons today should cause us to take a close look at whether similar action should be taken here,” Alm said Thursday.

The decision to pardon those convicted of crimes rests with the governor, but Alm said he is willing to work with him and other stakeholders to determine if a particular pardon impacts public safety.

Ige supports measures that “align state and federal laws on this issue” and is reviewing the president’s request to see if it’s in the public’s best interest, said Cindy McMillan, the governor’s communications director.

Hawaii residents convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana could soon be allowed to seek pardons to clear their criminal records. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2018

Biden announced Thursday that he is pardoning thousands of people with prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana. He urged all governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.

“There are thousands of people who have prior federal convictions for marijuana possession,” Biden said in his announcement. “My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”

Hawaii decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2019 when it passed Act 273. Possessing 3 grams of cannabis or less is subject to a $130 fine. Possessing more than that, up to an ounce, carries a penalty of 30 days imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

“Hawaii’s decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana three years ago has no doubt kept a number of people from entering the criminal justice system,” Alm said, adding that “a conviction for marijuana possession can certainly have a negative impact on otherwise law-abiding people in terms of housing, jobs and education.”

Nikos Leverenz, board president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said it is important that Biden has asked that marijuana be reclassified from a Schedule I drug per the Controlled Substances Act, which includes the most dangerous substances such as heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine.

“Cannabis simply does not belong in the CSA,” Leverenz said in a press release Thursday. “Governor Ige should initiate mechanisms that will facilitate the discharge of cannabis possession offenses from individual criminal legal records, and the next governor should complete the process.”

The Hawaii Constitution says that the “governor may grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, after conviction, for all offenses.” There is an application process to be considered for a pardon after committing a crime. The application includes details of a person’s crimes, personal information and supportive character affidavits.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, the Democratic candidate for governor in the Nov. 8 general election, said if elected to office he would conduct a review of the safest and most appropriate outcome for those incarcerated in Hawaii for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

“I agree with President Biden that no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Green said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

The Honolulu prosecutor’s office could not say how many people would be directly affected by pardons without knowing what particular offenses would be included.

“Hawaii’s penal code has a number of different offenses for possessing marijuana and marijuana concentrate and it will be important to look at how those offenses line up with any federal offense impacted by President Biden’s pardons and whether public safety will be endangered by a general pardon,” Alm said.

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