Hawai`i May Become First State in US To Decriminalize All Drugs

March 25, 2016   |   Claire Bernish

Claire Bernish
March 25, 2016

(ANTIMEDIA) Hawai`i — Following Portugal’s model, Hawai`i could become the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize all drugs — including cocaine and even heroin.

“[D]espite 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,” states a resolution that passed, amended by the Hawai`i House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Now that it’s been approved, the study’s findings will be due later this year, “no later than 20 days prior” to the convening of the legislature’s 2017 session.

According to testimony from the Legislative Reference Bureau Acting Director, Charlotte A. Carter-Yamauchi, the study will reference Portugal’s successful decriminalization with the caveat of recognizing Hawai`i’s obligation to follow federal law. But the state recognizes the numerous failures and pitfalls of the national war on drugs and its policies, beginning with passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914.

“Addicts are still considered to be violating the law by possessing drugs and have no legal way of obtaining them. The war on drugs most problematic effects are in its pursuit of dealers and traffickers. This is what has made the business lucrative and violent, caused addicts to steal to obtain drug money, and burdened the tax payers [sic] and criminal justice system,” Libertarian Party of Hawai`i Chair, Tracy Ryan, submitted in support of the study, with the recommendation to examine pre-1914 U.S. drug policy.

Among others offering testimony, the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai`i issued a statement in “strong support” of studying the issue, as well as a recommendation the LRB carry out a “twin study” on “the effects of legalization of marijuana for adult use.” Noting the Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene in a dispute between Colorado, Nebraska, and Oklahoma — stemming from Colorado’s cannabis legalization — the Forum claimed it would be an “opportune time” to conduct the parallel study.

Policymakers in Hawai`i decided to turn to Portugal’s across-the-board decriminalization, which became law on July 1, 2001, for consideration, after the CATO Institute issued a report touting the policy’s success. Cited in testimony by Kat Brady, Coordinator of Community Alliance on Prisons, the report’s conclusion stated:

“None of the fears promulgated by opponents of Portuguese decriminalization has come to fruition, whereas many of the benefits predicted by drug policymakers from instituting a decriminalization regime have been realized. While drug addiction, usage, and associated pathologies continue to skyrocket in many EU states, those problems — in virtually every relevant category — have been either contained or measurably improved within Portugal since 2001 […]

“By freeing its citizens from the fear of prosecution and imprisonment for drug usage, Portugal has dramatically improved its ability to encourage drug addicts to avail themselves of treatment. The resources that were previously devoted to prosecuting and imprisoning drug addicts are now available to provide treatment programs to addicts.”

Also noted by Brady in bold from the CATO study as being of particular importance, “Drug policymakers in the Portuguese government are virtually unanimous in their belief that decriminalization has enabled a far more effective approach to managing Portugal’s addiction problems and other drug-related afflictions.”

Numerous individuals, groups, and organizations submitted written testimony in support of Hawai`i’s proposal to study sweeping decriminalization, chiefly because a policy like Portugal’s would view addiction as a health, rather than criminal, issue.

Hawai`i will study virtually every facet of drug policy and its countless repercussions in the state to determine if Portugal’s model, or some variation of it, would be feasible and beneficial to implement. Simply undertaking such research in the United States highlights recent foundational shifts toward ambivalence from government and civilians concerning the failed Drug War — which insider reports indicate may have been largely fueled by the desire to quash dissent and incite division.

Portugal’s decriminalization policy, though not perfect, stands as a solid testament to the benefits triggered when government reframes citizens as people rather than criminals. Whether Hawai`i ultimately follows that country’s lead or not, the study will almost certainly find decriminalization to be worth a try.


This article (Hawai`i May Become First State in US To Decriminalize All Drugs) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Claire Bernish and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. Image credit: Adel Bellevenue. If you spot a typo, email edits@theantimedia.org.

Author: Claire Bernish

Claire Bernish joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in May of 2015. Her topics of interest include thwarting war propaganda through education, the refugee crisis & related issues, 1st Amendment concerns, ending police brutality, and general government & corporate accountability. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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  6. The obvious problem to this being put through in the State legislature is that it contridicts Federal law.

    Controlled Substances Act. The DEA was basically created to help enforce and manage the mandate of this Federal bill. And according to the US Constitution, Federal law has supremacy over State law.

    So my understanding of all of this is, Hawaii state troopers and local law enforcement will follow state law, but the DEA, who has operations in Hawaii, can and probably will enforce the law as they see fit. They may not get the same level of cooperation as previous, but they can still do their jobs and enforce Federal law.

    Reference links:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lesley-daunt/state-vs-federal-law-who-_b_4676579.html
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controlled_Substances_Act
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_Enforcement_Administration#History_and_mandate

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  7. The obvious problem to this being put through in the State legislature is that it contridicts Federal law.

    Controlled Substances Act. The DEA was basically created to help enforce and manage the mandate of this Federal bill. And according to the US Constitution, Federal law has supremacy over State law.

    So my understanding of all of this is, Hawaii state troopers and local law enforcement will follow state law, but the DEA, who has operations in Hawaii, can and probably will enforce the law as they see fit. They may not get the same level of cooperation as previous, but they can still do their jobs and enforce Federal law.

    Reference links:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lesley-daunt/state-vs-federal-law-who-_b_4676579.html
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controlled_Substances_Act
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_Enforcement_Administration#History_and_mandate

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  8. And thus, it'd be on the DEA's budget and not Hawaii's budget to enforce it.

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  9. And thus, it'd be on the DEA's budget and not Hawaii's budget to enforce it.

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  10. Nick Burrus Yeah. But the biggest problem I see is that even though technically the headline of this article is true, if this becomes law and you use whatever drug you want in Hawaii, you will still go to jail if caught by law enforcement. This should at least be mentioned in the article. I'm not a lawyer, or even American, so I could be wrong about the legal gymnastics I brought up. But if it checks out, it's worth a mention to spread a proper warning label.

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  14. As long as the Law can make bank upon human misery(also by causing human misery) the U.S.A. (United Sadists of America) will continue to inflict Its heinous and despicible law given cruelty. You thought the Constitution protected its citizens from cruel and unusual punishment, milliions(of peaceful/non-violent people) have suffered. This is proof that the Portugese are wise and kind.

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