by Phillip Smith
Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies
A bill that would have legalized marijuana died in the state legislature Tuesday. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Karl Rhoads told the Associated Press he decided to kill it after a head count found the bill would come up short in the House.
The measure, House Bill 669, would have allowed people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and grow an unspecified number of plants in a secure location. It would also have created a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. It was sponsored by House Speaker Joseph Souki (D-8), leading proponents to hope his support could help push it through the House, but that was not to be.
A public hearing last week saw now familiar arguments reprised. County police departments, the state attorney general and the Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii told legislators marijuana was a dangerous drug and that the social costs of legalizing it would be too high, while supporters of the bill, including the ACLU of Hawaii said legalization would save the state money and respect Hawaiians' freedom of choice. They also argued that pot prohibition disproportionately impacts the state's minorities.
Pam Lichty of the Hawaii Drug Policy Action Group told the AP the group is disappointed but will continue to fight for marijuana reform, including improving the state's medical marijuana program.
Colorado and Washington freed the weed in November, and marijuana legalization bills have been or will be introduced this year in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
South Dakota Bill to Reduce Marijuana Penalties Killed
A bill that would have lowered the maximum penalty for possession of two ounces of marijuana or less was killed Tuesday in a Senate committee. It died on a 5-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee after law enforcement representatives testified against it.
In the language customarily used in Pierre, it was "deferred to the 41st legislative day." The South Dakota session has only 40 days.
The bill, Senate Bill 221, would have moved marijuana possession from a Class 1 to a Class 2 misdemeanor. That would have lowered the maximum penalty from a year in jail to 30 days in jail.
Both proponents and opponents of the measure agreed that the vast majority of people charged with pot possession serve little or no jail time, with most receiving only fines. Those fines can be significant, though. In east-central Beadle County, for instance, pot possession offenders are typically hit with a fine of $435, with some jail time thrown in for repeat offenders.
Attorney General Marty Jackley (R), the State's Attorney's Association's Paul Bachand, and lobbyists for sheriffs and police chiefs all opposed the bill, saying it would "send the wrong message" about a substance they consider a "gateway drug."
Earlier in the session, legislators defeated a medical marijuana bill (again). The state also criminalizes having gotten high, even if having done so elsewhere. Its "internal possession" law is unique in the country. South Dakota remains one of the most pot-unfriendly places in the country, something that summer vacationers and fans of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally would do well to keep in mind.