Written Testimony in Favor of SB 1460, Before The Senate Joint Committee on Judiciary and Labor and the Senate Committee on Health
I applaud the members of Hawaii's Senate Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations for holding this hearing regarding Senate Bill 1460, which seeks to amend the state's criminal marijuana possession laws.
Senate Bill 1460 seeks to reduce minor marijuana possession penalties from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, to a civil infraction punishable by a fine only. This common sense, fiscally responsible proposal will cut costs, improve public safety, and have a positive impact on the quality of life of tens of thousands of Hawaii adults.
Senate Bill 1460 Will Improve The Quality Of Life For Hawaii Citizens
Between 1,000 and 1,500 Hawaii residents are arrested annually for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana. Passage of SB 1460 measure would spare these minor marijuana offenders from criminal arrest, prosecution, and incarceration, as well as the emotional and financial hardships that follow -- including the loss of certain jobs, students loans, federal and state subsidies, and child custody rights.
Most adult marijuana users act responsibly and consume marijuana solely within the privacy of their own homes. They are not part of the crime problem and they should not be treated like serious criminals. Senate Bill 1460 would maintain the monetary sanctions already in place for marijuana possession violations, but would spare offenders from being saddled with lifelong criminal records. This change would continue to discourage marijuana abuse, while halting the practice of permanently criminalizing thousands of otherwise law abiding citizens of Hawaii.
Senate Bill 1460 Will Cut Costs And Improve Public Safety
Law enforcement resource allocation is a zero-sum gain. The time that a police officer spends arresting and processing minor marijuana offenders is time when he or she is not out on the streets protecting the public from more significant criminal activity. Passage of SB 1460 would allow law enforcement, prosecutors, and the courts to reallocate their existing resources toward activities that will more effectively target serious criminal behavior and keep the public safe.
It would also have the added benefit of saving state taxpayers' money and raising revenue. Presently, state and county law enforcement agencies spend over $4 million per year to enforce marijuana possession laws; an additional $2.1 million is spent by the courts. Passage of SB 1460 will offset these criminal justice costs while simultaneously raising state revenue through the imposition of civil fines of up to $100.
The Public Supports Senate Bill 1460
Public opinion strongly favors such a reprioritization of law enforcement resources. Marijuana 'decriminalization,' as proposed under SB 1460 presently enjoys support from the majority of Americans. According to a recent CNN/Time Magazine poll, approximately three out of four citizens favor a fine over criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana. In fact, thirteen states – including Oregon, Maine, Nebraska, Ohio, and Mississippi -- have already enacted various forms of marijuana decriminalization, replacing criminal sanctions with the imposition of fine-only penalties for minor marijuana offenders. In October 2010, California lawmakers reduced penalties for marijuana possession from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil infraction. Lawmakers in several other states — including Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, and Rhode Island — are considering similar legislative proposals this year.
In not a single instance have lawmakers recriminalized marijuana after implementing decriminalization.
Locally, in 2008, Big Island voters by a 3 to 2 margin approved Ballot Question 1, which sought to direct law enforcement to make activities related to the investigation and arrest of adults who possess up to 24 ounces of cannabis and/or 24 plants their lowest priority. However, it appears that local lawmakers and law enforcement have failed to consistently abide by this ordinance, thus warranting the passage of this statewide legislation.
Contrary to the concerns of some, the passage of SB 1460 would not negatively impact marijuana use patterns or attitudes. Passage of similar legislation in other states has not led to increased marijuana use or altered adolescents' perceptions regarding the potential harms of drug use. In fact, the only United States government study ever commissioned to assess whether the enforcement of strict legal penalties positively impacts marijuana use found, "Overall, the preponderance of the evidence which we have gathered and examined points to the conclusion that decriminalization has had virtually no effect either on the marijuana use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use among American young people."
Support Public Safety: Vote 'Yes' On SB 1460
Senate Bill 1460 seeks to reduce government expenditures and promote public safety. These are goals that lawmakers should support. It is a common sense, fiscally responsible proposal that will cut costs without altering the public's attitudes or use of marijuana. I urge you to support SB 1460.
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Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2009). His writing on marijuana policy has appeared in over a dozen anthologies and in over 500 newspapers and magazines. He is a former consultant to Health Canada.
 Joe Stein. "The New Politics of Pot." Time Magazine. October 27, 2002.
 NORML. 2007. 2007 Citizens Guide to Understanding America's Marijuana laws: A Compilation of State by State Penalties, Arrest Data, Tax Stamps and Legal Resources. Roanoke, Virginia: Zickafoose Visual-Worx, LLC.
 Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper 13. Marijuana Decriminalization: The Impact on Youth 1975-1980. Ann Arbor. 1981.