Hawaii might be taking the next step in changing the approach to how it treats drug users… all drug users. In a stunning series of events, the House of Representatives introduced a resolution to conduct a study on the impact of the decriminalization of ALL drugs. As of Monday, both chambers of Hawaii’s Legislature have voted in favor of the resolution.
All drugs decriminalized
Fifteen years ago, Portugal took a drastic measure to try and curb what it saw as an epidemic of drug-related deaths and sexually transmitted diseases. The small nation recused itself completely from the so-called War on Drugs and decriminalized all illicit substances. Marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, crystal meth, heroin… all were made legal for personal use.
Drug dealers could still be jailed or fined, but anyone with a 10-day supply or less only faced a small fine, treatment, or no punishment whatsoever.
After passing the House last month, the Senate had until the 25th of April to vote on the resolution. On Monday, the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor passed an amended version of the resolution. The amended version narrows the scope of the study to:
“Pertain to the illegal possession of a harmful drug, detrimental drug, marijuana or marijuana concentrate.”
Under Hawaiian law, this means marijuana, as well as substances in Schedules III, IV, and V. This excludes cocaine, heroin, meth, psilocybin, LSD, and other common illegal drugs. Carl Bergquist of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii says that the scope may be opened up again before the study is completely approved.
“We shall see what the House has to say about this, they wanted ALL drugs to be part of the study and it was their resolution.”
What happens next
Because the resolution was modified, it has to go back to the House for a second vote, during which it could be amended again back to its original scope of all drugs. The study once passed, would examine Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs, weighing the benefits as well as the downfalls that have occurred since it was first passed in 2001.
According to a 2009 Cato Institute report cited in the Hawaiian resolution, Portugal has seen a significant drop in teen drug use, as well as drug-related deaths and HIV/AIDS rates among users. The only increase has been the number of enrollments in drug treatment and rehabilitation.
The study, once enacted, would be due later this year in preparation for the 2017 legislature’s session, to allow for the consideration of adopting Portugal’s model for the state. By doing so, Hawaii would officially treat drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal one, and that use “would constitute an administrative or civil violation rather than a criminal offense.”
Do you think that more people with drug problems would seek out treatment if they were no longer in fear of incarceration? Share your thoughts on social media or in the comments below.