Decriminalizing drug paraphernalia
Hawaii has one of the toughest drug paraphernalia possession laws in the country, but Hawaii lawmakers are working to decriminalize the violation.
HONOLULU - Hawaii has one of the toughest drug paraphernalia possession laws in the country. It comes with harsher penalties than possessing marijuana.
But, Hawaii lawmakers are working to decriminalize paraphernalia possession. Pipes, from colorful glass creations to metal and even wooden ones, make up 40 percent of the business at Hawaii's Natural High.
"Everything has a legal purpose, for tobacco. We don't sell anything just for illegal uses," said Hawaii's Natural High Owner Greg Azus.
But right now under state law, those who illegally smoke marijuana face stricter punishment for the pipes or papers than for using the drug itself.
"It doesn't make sense that someone with a joint, which is a petty misdemeanor, can all of a sudden be charged with a class C felony -- just because they have rolling papers," said Rep. Joy San Buenaventura.
San Buenaventura is one of the Hawaii Representatives who introduced a bill that would change the law to decriminalize possession of drug paraphernalia. A change which would bring Hawaii's law in line with nearly the rest of the country.
She feels it would also lessen prison overcrowding. Because 40% of Hawaii inmates stay in jail when they can't afford to make bail.
"If you get caught at a party with a joint and rolling papers. It is highly unlikely you are going to have enough money for bail, so you are going to be part of the 40% plus pre-trial detainees in OCCC," stated San Buenaventura.
Some feel the law also targets Hawaii's homeless.
"The homeless population, whenever they are arrested, it is a drug paraphernalia charge," said San Buenaventura.
"You don't need to incarcerate people for things like that. If they are saying it is a misdemeanor for marijuana , I don't see why they should make it a felony for someone to have a pipe," added Azus.
Some may feel the measure is soft on crime, but San Buenaventura counters: it allows the right criminals to be behind bars.
"This does not release violent offenders. What this actually does is ensures that there is room for violent offenders in our jail system," said San Buenaventura.
Lawmakers are still hammering out exactly how much the civil fine would be under the bill -- right now it ranges between $100-$500 dollars.