BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – “Kona Gold” … “Maui Wowie” – these are just some of the nicknames for locally-grown Marijuana that island residents grew up with. Hawaii, like most states, bans Marijuana use unless the consumer has a medical Marijuana permit. But at the Hawaii legislature, there is a major push in the ongoing 2013 legislative session for the 50th state to join Colorado and Washington State in revoking the prohibition.
While law enforcement opposes legalization, calling Marijuana a “gateway drug” that can cause users to become violent, the proposal has energized many who believe the substance is no more dangerous that alcohol or cigarettes.
However, within advocacy circles, there is controversy over whether the drug should be taxed and regulated or simply legalized.
The Libertarian Party of Hawaii, which has long advocated for decriminalization of Marijuana, is calling for an “intelligent approach” to reforming Marijuana laws.
Unlike other advocates that have suggested Marijuana be taxed and regulated like cigarettes, Libertarians do not support many of the rules, Ryan said.
“We are particularly troubled by a special 15 percent tax included in HB699, and a ban on public consumption, in both House bills. No logic is presented for the ban on public consumption. Nor is it clear why the 21 year old legal age was chosen. It is 18 for tobacco,” said Tracy Ryan, president of the Libertarian Party of Hawaii.
SB467, HB699 and HB150 would create a legal marijuana licensing system, but none of the proposals would repeal the current criminal statutes, Ryan said, and instead refer to “affirmative defense” if a person is following all of the regulations.
“Bills that aim to ‘legalize’ marijuana are worthy of support, but should not be written so poorly, as to lead to problems and confusion when passed into law,” Ryan said.
“This is sloppy,” Ryan said. “A better way to repeal a law is to include all the text to be repealed in the legislative bill, with the language to be removed struck through. Marijuana advocates must insist on this step as a minimum to accomplishing the goals set by the legislators. Please remember that our legislation will only create new statutory material, and will not have the weight that a constitutional amendment, such as that passed in Colorado, would.”
The Drug Policy Action Group is a major force behind the legalization effort. At a January 2013 press conference, the group share the results of a poll conducted by QMark Research on the public’s attitudes toward marijuana and marijuana laws. Out of 600 people polled between November 19 and December 4, 2012, 78% supported a dispensary system for medical marijuana; 69% believed jail time for marijuana offenses is inappropriate; and 57% favored legalizing, taxing and regulating Marijuana. That was a 20% jump in the number of people who favored Marijuana legalization in a 2005 poll, the group said.
At the press conference, attorney Pamela Lichty, President of the Drug Policy Action Group, also unveiled a new report on economic impacts of Marijuana legalization.
Authored by David Nixon, an Associate Professor at the University of Hawaii College of Social Sciences Public Policy Center, the report documented a “surge” in Marijuana use in Hawaii since 2004 documented by possession arrests that have increased almost 50% and distribution arrests that have almost doubled.
Decriminalizing Marijuana could save taxpayers $9 million a year in law enforcement costs, and if it was taxed, bring in another $11 million a year in revenues, Nixon said.
Nixon also maintains in his report that current laws “overly impact males under the age of 25 and people of native Hawaiian descent – groups that were arrested in numbers disproportionate to their share of the population.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has joined the push for legalization. Vanessa Chong, Executive Director of the ACLU of Hawaii, said: “In Hawaii as across the nation, arrests for Marijuana possession are one of the most common ways that individuals get caught up in the criminal justice system, at great social and economic cost. These studies provide important, updated facts for the Hawaii community as we consider new directions.”
Lichty said from the survey findings, it’s clear that Hawaii voters are open to reconsidering local Marijuana laws. “The data in both of these reports will help our communities craft more effective, less costly approaches for the future. The Drug Policy Action Group, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and our allies will advocate for the policy reforms that people in Hawaii want,” Lichty said.
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