Marijuana possession: Crime or $100 fine?

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State Representative Marcus Oshiro was surrounded by Honolulu Police at the State Capitol Wednesday.  In his hand, he had what looked like a bag of Marijuana.  No, he wasn’t under arrest. It was a prop to help him send a message.

“If you carry more than this it’s a $100 fine, that’s less than jay walking, that’s less than cell phone violations, less than a speeding ticket for carrying a drug like this. That’s crazy,” said Rep. Oshiro, (D) Wahiawa.

He’s talking about a bill that would make possessing an ounce or less of marijuana in the state a civil fine and not a crime. State Senators unanimously approved the measure, a move the men and women in blue say is not okay.

“It’s sending the message that it’s OK when we know that it’s not, we know that it causes harm, learning problems, social and psychological problems for young people and yet decriminalizing it we are telling them it’s okay,” said Honolulu Police Maj. Jerry Inouye.

“Marijuana is not a harmless drug, we see that one in six youths abuse or become addicted, one in 10 adults abuse or become addicted and need treatment,” said Alan Shinn, Coalition for a Drug Free Hawaii.

On the flip side, supporters say other states have taken such a step and have seen a benefit.

“You’d be surprised at the states that decriminalized it: Mississippi, Ohio, Nebraska, and the results they’ve had plenty of time to see the results and how it affects youth use, and surprisingly youth use has gone down in those states,” said Pamela Lichty, Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii.

The ACLU says changing the law could save taxpayers $9 million a year.
“Yes $24,000 a day is being spent every time a person interacts with the criminal justice system because of a marijuana arrest, that is to great a cost for Hawaii to pay,” says Vanessa Chong, ACLU Hawaii.

Now, it’s a wait and see if House lawmakers support this move as much as their colleagues in the Senate.

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