Hawaii lawmakers introduce marijuana access bills

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HONOLULU (AP) — Lawmakers in Hawaii are beginning to introduce a series of bills that aim to make marijuana more freely available in the state.

A bill to decriminalize marijuana is currently being drafted, said Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee. That bill would reduce punishment for using marijuana to a civil violation instead of a felony, he said.

Under the proposal, getting caught with marijuana would be similar to getting a parking ticket, and like a parking ticket, violators could mail in their responses to the courts. The fine would not exceed $100, Espero said.

"Decriminalization might have a chance this year, especially when you look at what's going on in other states," Espero said.

But House Majority Leader Scott Saiki has said he believes decriminalization is unlikely to pass. "I don't think there's much more support for it," Saiki said.

Espero plans to introduce at least two other bills on the topic Friday.

One bill, SB 190, would allow marijuana growers to serve three medical marijuana patients at a time, instead of the current one-person limit. That's especially important for elderly patients who may not be able to cultivate a garden, he said. The bill also spells out how patients or caregivers can get seeds or plants.

"Right now the law is silent on how a person can receive their seedlings to grow marijuana," Espero said.

Another bill would change the drug's classification. Marijuana is currently in classification 1, meaning it's considered as dangerous as heroin.

"This is an error or mistake that people have been trying to get the federal government to change, but it hasn't," Espero said.

In the House, a bill was introduced Thursday to prohibit discrimination against medical marijuana users in condominiums. That bill, HB 31, says that if house rules or bylaws discriminate against medical marijuana users, those rules are void, unless the complex prohibits tobacco smoking and the patient ingests medical marijuana by smoking.

Lawmakers have made it clear that increasing access to medical marijuana — likely through dispensaries — will be a priority.

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