Hawaii Says Aloha to Decriminalization

Experience the high life in Hawaii? The Aloha State, known for its world-renowned honeymoon and vacation destination, has beautiful islands, lush flora, outstanding food, volcanoes, a rich cultural scene, and endless rainbows.  When I visited Hawaii with my family years ago, it was an idyllic paradise full of color and vibrancy. “Aloha” is more than “hello” and “goodbye;” it is a balanced, tranquil way of life. 

Yet even though Hawaii became the 26th state to decriminalize possession of marijuana in 2020, I am not convinced Hawaii is so concerned with peace, tranquility, and wellness.  Hawaii’s decriminalization – not legalization – of pot took effect on January 11, 2020. Now possession of three grams or less of marijuana is not considered a criminal act. The law also expunges the criminal records of individuals who were caught in possession of three grams or less of marijuana only.

green cannabis leaves and black glass drops bottle

Bill HB 1383 decriminalizes possession of a personal amount of cannabis and provides retroactive expungement for individuals with similar past possession offenses. While simple possession is no longer considered a crime, it most definitely differs from legalization. Possession of more than three grams, or selling cannabis for non-medical reasons, is still considered criminal activity and therefore subject to arrest and potential prosecution. 

Hawaii was a progressive pioneer on the pot question. In 2000, Hawaii legalized medicinal cannabis. It was the first state to do so. Hawaii Gov. David Ige declined to sign the decriminalization legislation. The governor also did not strike it down by his veto deadline, essentially allowing the measure to become law. Pick a lane, man. 

Gov. Ige, a Democrat, said  the new law does not mean Hawaii is on the verge of joining the bandwagon of states that have legalized recreational cannabis. Too bad. 

Keep off the grass? “Hawaii can benefit from not being at the head of the table, that we would be smart to engage and recognize what’s happening in other states, acknowledge the challenges and problems that it has raised and allow us to look at how we would implement it here in a much better controlled fashion,” Gov. Ige said.  I think there was more Republican support for impeaching Trump than the Governor of Hawaii has for cannabis decriminalization. 

Unless cannabis is legalized at the federal level, individual states’ decriminalization programs give a mixed bag of results and leave open-ended questions about enforcement powers, Big Cannabis, organized crime, access to medical marijuana, and the transport of cannabis.