Friday, March 12, 2010

Hawaii legislature considers loosening marijuana laws

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three marijuana bills are making their way
through the Hawaii State Capitol. One bill would take away criminal
penalties for anyone caught with less than an ounce of pot. Instead they
would pay a civil fine of $300 for the first offense and $500 after

Another bill would allow medical marijuana patients to have more plants
and ounces.

A third bill would allow medical marijuana dispensaries with the
government approving permits for shop to open. That bill cleared another
committee today, despite opposition from police and prosecutors.

At the very least the state and counties could make few million dollars
a year selling marijuana but opponents say it comes at too high of a

The marijuana discussion was passed around a capitol committee room. The
debate is over establishing something called "compassion centers," to
sell pot to any patient with a doctor's permit.

"One of the problems with this is it would be almost impossible for the
compassion center to verify that these are actually legitimate permits,"
testified Keith Kamita, State Department of Public Safety Narcotics
Enforcement Division Chief.

Another concern is that the government would essentially become a drug
dealer taking a cut from the marijuana sales. The state would tax $30
per ounce and the counties would get $5,000 in annual registration fees.

Even in the worst of economic times the state attorney general, speaking
on behalf of all county police chiefs and prosecutors says that's a
terrible idea.

"It allows essentially anyone other than a convicted felon to set up
massive centers for the sales of marijuana," testified Mark Bennett,
State Attorney General. "It just makes absolutely no sense for the State
of Hawaii to become potentially the legal marijuana sale capitol of the

Plenty of supporters also spoke up.

"What you do is increase the supply you decrease the value. If you get
rid of the black market, you got rid of the black market," testified
Myron Berney, supporter. "Moses never said anything bad about it. Jesus
never said anything bad about it. Buddha or Mohammed never said anything
bad about it."

"It's been smoked for thousands of years all over the world, no one has
ever died from ingesting marijuana," testified George Fox, supporter.

"I think it's now important that we now provide the mechanism for people
like myself, patients suffering, to have this available to them,"
testified Brian Shaughnessy, private attorney.

"My point is in Hawaii we have an opportunity to do it right we can
design a distribution center from scratch," testified Pamela Lichty,
Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii President.

Most lawmakers agreed approving the bill and sending it to the judiciary
committee bringing the pipe dream closer to reality.

"We believe this is a mistake and will bring a great many ills to
Hawaii," said Attorney General Bennett after the hearing.

Lawmakers also attached amendments to the bill today that said a
marijuana center should be placed within one mile of a police station,
but not within two miles of a school although lawmakers also said there
are a lot more details to work out.

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