A group of Hawaii lawmakers wants their state to consider becoming the first in the U.S. to decriminalize all drugs.
A resolution being heard Thursday by the state’s House Judiciary Committee says that “despite a longstanding policy that enforces illicit drug prohibition and imposes some of the world’s harshest penalties for drug possession and sales, illicit drug use in the United States has been increasing.”
The measure, if passed by both chambers of the legislature, would request that the state’s Legislative Reference Bureau “conduct a study on the feasibility and advisability of decriminalizing the illegal possession of drugs for personal use in Hawaii” so that such conduct “would constitute an administrative or civil violation rather than a criminal offense.”
The study, which would be due later this year in preparation for the legislature’s 2017 session, would examine Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs as a possible model for the state.
Would request that the state … conduct a study on … decriminalizing the illegal possession of drugs for personal use in Hawaii
In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs, including marijuana, heroin and cocaine. While use and possession remain technically illegal, people caught with small amounts of drugs are not arrested or sent to prison. Rather, they are brought before three-member commissions that can recommend treatment or assign fines and other administrative remedies. Drug trafficking and sales are still punishable as crimes.
A 2009 Cato Institute report, cited in the Hawaii House resolution, found that since decriminalization went into effect, drug use by Portuguese teenagers has dropped, as have drug-related deaths and HIV/AIDS rates among drug users. Enrollment in drug treatment is up.
As a concurrent resolution, the Hawaii proposal would not need the support of Gov. David Ige (D). But, because it would not have the force of law, it merely requests that the study be done without mandating it.