Lawmakers want decriminalizing drugs researched

As published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser on March 30, 2016:

"Lawmakers in the House of Representatives want to study whether it would be feasible or wise to decriminalize possession of small quantities of illicit drugs for personal use in Hawaii.

House lawmakers Tuesday passed House Concurrent Resolution 127, which requests that the state Legislative Reference Bureau study the experience of Portugal. That European nation officially abolished all criminal penalties for possession of drugs for personal use in 2001.

Portugal still prosecutes major drug traffickers, but has made possession of small amounts of drugs an administrative violation that is handled without any criminal prosecutions. People who are caught with small quantities of drugs may be fined, referred to drug treatment or required to do community service.

The resolution was co-introduced by state Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole along with House Speaker Joe Souki (D, Waihee-Waiehu-Wailuku) and House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke (D, Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuuanu), meaning it has significant political clout behind it.

Keohokalole (D, Kahaluu-Ahuimanu-Kaneohe) said he isn’t sure decriminalization is right for Hawaii, but said he wants to know more about that approach to the drug problem.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, studied the result of decriminalization in Portugal seven years ago and found it was ʻa resounding success,ʻ he said. Portugal has the lowest drug addiction rates in the European Union, which is being attributed to the decriminalization framework, Keohokalole said.

ʻThey were able to take resources that they had previously devoted to the criminal (justice) system and reallocate them toward treatment and other social services,ʻ Keohokalole said. ʻUltimately, the war on drugs in America is not working. It’s not working in Hawaii.ʻ

The resolution cites the annual survey by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which found that in 2013 an estimated 24.6 million people, or more than 9 percent of the population, had used an illicit drug within the previous month.

Keohokalole also said he believes other community issues in his district such as homelessness are related to the drug issue. ʻThey sent me here to look into new ideas, and we’ve been fighting this drug war for over 40 years and it’s not working,ʻ he said."

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