Hawaii’s Governor Should Ramp Up Cannabis Clemency Efforts - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Authors

Carrie Ann Shirota

Carrie Ann Shirota is policy director at the ACLU of Hawaii.

Frank Stiefel

Frank Stiefel is a senior policy associate at the Last Prisoner Project.

Josh Green has it in his power to serve as a model for other state leaders.

While adult-use cannabis legalization did not make it to the governor’s desk this year, the fight to end incarceration for those criminalized by prohibition continues. Through the passage of House Concurrent Resolution 51, lawmakers have called on Gov. Josh Green to initiate a clemency program for individuals who continue to be harmed by cannabis convictions.

This past October President Biden pardoned over 6,500 cannabis records and called on local governors to use their clemency power for people with nonviolent cannabis-related convictions.

The governor has it in his power to serve as a model for other state leaders. Developing a dedicated clemency program for individuals with cannabis convictions creates a pathway of relief for those whose continued incarceration is no longer in the interests of justice. It represents a first step in addressing the harm caused by decades of failed drug policies.

Clemency Reduces Inequities

The longstanding drug war has broadly criminalized those who use substances, especially those from under-resourced communities. Criminalization has contributed to overcrowded jails in Hawaii that are now beset with substandard conditions. Drug-related offenses help drive a probation system that leads the nation in average duration (59 months).

Drug law enforcement disproportionately impacts Native Hawaiians at every stage of the criminal legal system. Historical data from the federal Uniform Crime Report indicate that a significant plurality of cannabis arrests are Native Hawaiian.

Overall, Native Hawaiians constitute 37% of the adult incarcerated population while making up just 18% of the adult population, according to a 2018 Office of Hawaiian Affairs report on prison reform.

Broad Support For Reforms

Recent polling shows that Hawaii residents overwhelmingly support cannabis legalization. Surveys also show that a vast majority of Americans support pardoning state-level convictions for cannabis possession. The law enforcement community has also begun to shift its perspective. Attorney General Anne Lopez recently stated that her office would stop opposing marijuana legalization and would support “lawmakers and stakeholders to proactively advance the reform.”

As the larger nation moves away from cannabis criminalization, a fundamental injustice continues to be inflicted upon those who suffer from criminal convictions and sentences resulting from prohibition. Gov. Green has a tremendous opportunity to change course.

Hawaii residents overwhelmingly support cannabis legalization. (Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2018)

Over the last year, allies for cannabis reform have collaborated with policymakers to outline recommendations to ensure that individuals who have been criminalized by cannabis prohibition have an opportunity to be released from incarceration and have their criminal records cleared.

These evidence-based and data-driven recommendations have been fully embraced and endorsed by the Department of Health’s Dual Use of Cannabis Task Force in its final report.

During his campaign last year, Gov. Green said that no one should be “in jail” for cannabis possession and that once elected, he would review the cases of individuals incarcerated for cannabis convictions. In a gubernatorial candidate survey conducted by the ACLU of Hawaii, Green expressed his commitment to moving beyond “tough on crime” strategies and using his executive authority to address inequity and overcrowding in Hawaii jails and prisons.

In solidarity with the undersigned organizations — Hawaii Innocence Project and Beyond Guilt Clinic, Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, and The Marijuana Policy Project — we support Gov. Green in a rollout of a targeted cannabis clemency program and urge him to thoroughly review all cannabis-related sentences that do not pose a threat to public safety. Implementation of such a program should incorporate input and expertise from cannabis and justice reform advocates and should empower individuals, families, and communities most directly impacted.

Along with our partners, we are eager to assist Gov. Green in bringing about these critical reforms and making cannabis clemency a reality in Hawaii. We recognize that a key factor to make this an operational reality is for the attorney general and the Hawaii Judiciary to collaborate with community stakeholders in developing a workable expungement process.

Gov. Green has a tremendous opportunity to change course.

We call on the governor to follow through on his campaign promises and use his clemency powers to reduce the longstanding harms of cannabis prohibition on Hawaii families.

The Last Prisoner Project is a national, nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to cannabis criminal justice reform with the goal of releasing every last cannabis prisoner and helping them rebuild their lives. We work to redress these harms through policy change, legal intervention, direct constituent support, and advocacy campaigns.

The mission of the ACLU of Hawaii is to protect the civil liberties contained in the state and federal constitutions through litigation, legislative, and public education programs. The ACLU is funded primarily through private donations and offers its services at no cost to the public. The ACLU does not accept any government funds.

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About the Authors

Carrie Ann Shirota

Carrie Ann Shirota is policy director at the ACLU of Hawaii.

Frank Stiefel

Frank Stiefel is a senior policy associate at the Last Prisoner Project.

Latest Comments (0)

Consuming whatever substances should not be a crime - unless one does it in a manner that violates the peace or endangers the safety or property of other people. Also leave alone the folks who grow token quantities of drug-producing plants for occasional personal consumption and sharing with friends and family. However, I do not want to hear any talk about making life easy for drug dealers, mules, manufacturers, etc., - anyone who earns a profit from the drug trade and has a profit motive in turning you and your children into junkies. Dishonest drug clemency and criminal reform proponents are very good about obfuscating things by lumping together drug users and drug profiteers. Don't let them fool you.

Chiquita · 2 months ago

The vast majority of people are in favor of ending prohibition. Several other states have been legalized long enough to demonstrate that banning cannabis is a huge waste of money with few social benefits.

TenPercentForDaBigGuy · 2 months ago

Stop putting the cart before the horse. Legalize.

kealoha1938 · 2 months ago

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