Hawaii Senate Approves Marijuana Expungements Pilot Program - Grow Life 420

Hawaii Senate Approves Marijuana Expungements Pilot Program

April 10, 2024

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Hawaii’s Senate on Tuesday passed a marijuana expungements bill that would create a single-county pilot program aimed at clearing certain past offenses, voting 24–1 to send the proposal, HB 1595, back to the House ahead of a legislative deadline later this week.

On two other marijuana-related measures, meanwhile—including a proposal to expand the state’s decriminalization of cannabis and separate legislation to create an expungements-focused task force—the chamber voted to hold off on adopting changes made by the House. If the Senate does not ultimately agree to the amendments, the bills will be sent to a bicameral conference committee.

The latest actions come after a separate proposal to legalize marijuana in Hawaii fizzled out earlier this month.

As originally introduced, Rep. David Tarnas’s (D) expungements bill, HB 1595, would have directed the state to automatically expunge tens of thousands of arrest and conviction records for low-level marijuana possession. But the Senate Judiciary Committee last month gutted the proposal, replacing the statewide plan with a pilot program in Hawaii County that would apply only to non-conviction arrest records.

“This bill is a good first step by setting up a pilot project to expunge non-conviction arrest records of low-level cannabis-related offenses in one county,” Tarnas told Marijuana Moment in an email on Tuesday. “Lessons learned from this experience will help as the expungement effort expands statewide and to also include records of conviction of low-level cannabis-related offenses as well.”

Hawaii County comprises the Big Island and is the state’s second most populous after Honolulu County, home to about 14 percent of the state’s population.

The bill now goes back to the House to consider changes made in the Senate.

The measure’s current scaled-back approach is the product of an amendment from Attorney General Anne Lopez (D). Her office told Marijuana Moment in an interview last month that the issue was budgetary, claiming, “There simply isn’t the money available for new kinds of projects that aren’t deemed necessary or crucial to the recovery” following massive wildfires that tore through Maui last August.

“With one expunger working at the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center,” said Dave Day, special assistant to the attorney general, “we felt that a pilot project to show how that would work, and potentially what resources would be required for a larger expungement program, would be appropriate.”

In a report from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which restricted the scope of the bill, the panel said it “supports the intent of this measure and believes that such a pilot project regarding the expungement of non-conviction arrest records is a significant first step” in addressing individuals’ efforts to expunge past arrest records.

The full, statewide version of the bill was expected to bring relief to “approximately 30,000 people” eligible for expungements under the original proposal, Tarnas said earlier in the session. He clarified this week that “there are currently over 50,000 arrests and 30,000 convictions currently in the system for low-level cannabis-related offenses,” according to the state attorney general’s office.

“Criminal records are like paper prisons,” he told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday, “which create significant barriers for people to access jobs, housing, education, public services, insurance and other aspects of community life. Expungement helps people move on with their lives, get back to work, and participate fully in civic life.”

As last week began, some observers speculated that the bill would not be taken up in committee in time to meet a legislative deadline. But lawmakers added it to the Ways and Means Committee calendar last Thursday, breathing new life into the proposal.

Leaders at ACLU of Hawaii told Marijuana Moment at the time that leaders were “jazzed that the advocacy paid off.”

Groups providing written testimony in support of the measure included MPP, the Chamber of Sustainable Commerce, the Community Alliance on Prisons, the Democratic Party of Hawaii, ACLU of Hawaii, Opportunity Youth Action Hawai’i, the Japanese American Citizens League, the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), the Hawaii Innocence Project and a number of individuals. None of the submitted testimony opposed the bill.

As for the other marijuana bills considered by the Senate on Tuesday, SB 2487 would expand the state’s current decriminalization law by decreasing the fine for low-level marijuana possession from $130 to $25. That would apply to up to an ounce of cannabis—up from three grams under current law.

Possession of more than one ounce would still carry criminal penalties, and a new violation would punish public cannabis consumption with a $130 fine.

SB 2706, meanwhile, would create a so-called Clean Slate Expungement Task Force that would be charged with crafting legislation for a state-led record-clearing program. It would include certain officials—including the attorney general, chief justice, public defender and various prosecutors—as well as representatives from various advocacy groups, including ACLU, LPP, the Hawaii Innocence Project and others.

While the expungements bill does not explicitly mention cannabis, marijuana-related offenses are widely expected to be included in the would-be task force’s discussions.

As for the broader legalization proposal that fell through earlier this month, supporters and opponents have both pointed out that this session has marked the furthest any legalization measure has made it through Hawaii’s legislature.

The more-than-300-page bill was formally introduced in both chambers in January and is based on a legalization plan written by state Attorney General Anne Lopez (D), who was appointed in December 2022 by Gov. Josh Green (D), a supporter of legalization. It would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of cannabis concentrates.

The bill’s sponsor in the House, Tarnas, has already committed to bringing a revised bill next session.

“During the interim, I look forward to working with the Attorney General’s office to improve the language of the bill to address issues brought up during the House debate on this bill,” he told Marijuana Moment in an email. “I will be collecting factual information about public safety and public health concerns, including the assertion of some opponents that legalization would actually result in an increase in cannabis use by youth as well as an increase in fatal car crashes attributable to cannabis use.”

As for those claims, Tarnas continued, “I think the evidence shows that there is no evidence of any increase in use of cannabis by youth in legalization states, but I will gather the data and present it next session. Similarly, I think the evidence from legalization states shows that there has not been any demonstrable increase in car crashes by drivers that is attributable solely to cannabis use. But, I will gather the data on this topic and present it next session.”

While most of opposition to the bill came from law enforcement, some Democratic leaders also vocally opposed the reform. Matayoshi, for instance—the Democratic majority whip who also opposed decriminalization—said before last month’s House floor vote that he didn’t think colleagues “should vote with reservations or vote in favor of this bill just to see it move along.”

“We can’t be voting on a bill that has some good parts but also has an incredible harm to our society in the form of legalizing recreational marijuana,” he said.

Last year the Senate passed a separate legalization bill that later stalled the House, but advocates were hopeful this year’s proposal could get further. Gov. Green said last month that legalization is a “big social issue that remains” to be addressed in the state, signaling that he’d likely sign a bill to end cannabis prohibition if lawmakers send him one.

Democrats in control of Hawaii’s Senate had said in January that cannabis legalization is one of their top priorities this legislative session, framing the reform as a means to boost the state’s economy.

Hawaii residents themselves seem to support the change. A recent Hawai’i Perspectives survey by the Pacific Resource Partnership found 58 percent support for legalization.

Advocates previously struggled under former Democratic Gov. Dave Ige, who resisted legalization in part because he said he was reluctant to pass something that conflicts with federal law. But since Green took office, activists have felt more emboldened. The current governor said in 2022 that he’d sign a bill to legalize cannabis for adults and already had ideas about how tax revenue could be utilized.

Last April, Hawaii’s legislature also approved a resolution calling on the governor to create a clemency program for people with prior marijuana convictions on their records.

As for other drug policy matters, lawmakers in February advanced a bill that would provide certain legal protections to patients engaging in psilocybin-assisted therapy with a medical professional’s approval. The measure would not legalize psilocybin itself but would instead create an affirmative legal defense for psilocybin use and possession in the case of doctor-approved use under the guidance of a trained facilitator.

Democrats Have ‘Better Ideas’ For Marijuana Policy Than The GOP, Poll Of Cannabis Consumers Finds

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

The post Hawaii Senate Approves Marijuana Expungements Pilot Program appeared first on Marijuana Moment.


via www.KahliBuds.com

Ben Adlin, KahliBuds, 420GrowLife

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