Hawaii has become the latest state to change marijuana laws. Lawmakers there have passed a bill that will make possession of small amounts of marijuana punishable by a fine rather than as a criminal offense, effectively decriminalizing marijuana.
Those who have been arrested under certain types of marijuana charges may also have the chance to get their criminal record expunged.
The decision to decriminalize marijuana could have a significant impact not only on Hawaii residents but also on the eight million people who visit the state each year.
The vote came a few months after lawmakers in Hawaii had decided not to vote for legalization of marijuana. At the time, politicians in the state had said there was not a big push among lawmakers to rush into legalization.
Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Law
The bill, which has been passed by both the House and the Senate, still needs to be signed into law by Gov. David Ige. Ige has said in the past he would prefer changing sentencing guidelines rather than marijuana decriminalization. However, he also later supported decriminalization as a state senator and is expected to sign the bill.
The law would change the current law, making it no longer a crime to possess three grams or less of marijuana. Rather than facing a criminal charge, people would face a fine of $130.
The law follows a plan that has been followed by many states that have not tried to legalize cannabis. For example, New Mexico also decriminalized marijuana this year, making possession of up to half a pound of marijuana punishable by a $50 fine.
There are now 15 states that have decriminalized marijuana but have not made it legal. They include Nebraska, North Carolina, Mississippi, New York and Connecticut.
Expunging Criminal Records
The new law also could help those convicted of low-level marijuana crimes in the past to expunge their criminal records, something that has been done in California. It also could allow qualifying patients to transport medical marijuana between the islands of Hawaii for their personal use.
The movement in Hawaii, New Mexico and other states is a position that now has been taken by Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president who currently leads the field. Biden said this month that he supports decriminalizing marijuana rather than legalization.
“Nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana,” Biden said in a speech in New Hampshire.
His campaign spokesperson later told reporters that Biden believes marijuana should be decriminalized and that legalization should be something decided on the state level. Biden also wants to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug (it’s currently Schedule 1), making it easier for researchers to have access to cannabis.