Hawaii bill would decriminalize ‘dangerous’ drug possession

HONOLULU (AP) — Possession of small amounts of drugs that are considered dangerous would be decriminalized in Hawaii under a proposed bill, potentially reducing the amount of money spent on enforcement.

The proposed legislation would make it a misdemeanor instead of a felony offense to possess less than 2 grams of dangerous drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin, morphine and cocaine.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Friday, Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Following the hearing, the bill was amended to increase the amount of drugs from one-sixteenth of an ounce to 2 grams.

“Enforcement of the offense of promotion of a dangerous drug in the third-degree costs state taxpayers over $13 million each year to incarcerate low-level, non-violent offenders. Hawaii’s experience corroborates mounting national data demonstrating that incarceration has no effect on rates of drug use or overdose deaths, but actually increases recidivism among those at low risk to reoffend,” according to the bill.

The bill also notes that money used in response to non-violent drug possession can be reinvested in other proven treatment methods to improve public health and safety.

Acting Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Nadamoto testified in person against the bill arguing that drug defendants are offered multiple opportunities and programs to avoid criminal convictions, including probation even before going to prison.

Hawaii County Deputy Police Chief Kenneth Bugado Jr. wrote to the committee that methamphetamine, cocaine, morphine and heroin are highly addictive and “often directly responsible for thefts, robberies, and assaults on members of our community.”

Since 2014, California, Utah, Connecticut, Alaska and Oklahoma have decriminalized possession of certain drugs from felonies to misdemeanor offenses.

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