HONOLULU (CN) - Hawaii's House of Representatives approved the first reading of a law that would make it legal for adults to possess an ounce of marijuana.
House Bill 150, The Personal Use of Marijuana Act, would make possession of an ounce or more legal for people 21 years old and older.
House Speaker Joseph Souki, D-Wailuku, Maui, introduced the bill in the heavily Democratic House, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 44 to 7.
Souki said he introduced the bill after consulting with the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., the Hawaii ACLU, and after a 2012 Drug Policy Action Group poll found that most Hawaiians support legalizing pot.
The bill defines and limits possession, use, cultivation, packaging, sale and licensure of dispensaries.
It provides for civil penalties for violations for possession by youths, and for driving under the influence of marijuana.
It does not specify how many plants may be cultivated for medical marijuana, but states: "Nothing in this part shall be construed as in any manner affecting the provisions of part IX relating to the medical use of marijuana."
University of Hawaii economics professor David Nixon estimates that legalization could bring the state $11.3 million in annual revenue, and save it $9 million in enforcement costs.
"(T)he cost for enforcement of marijuana laws is increasing in Hawaii, the increased arrests for marijuana possession are not driven by increased marijuana usage, and the impacts of arrest for marijuana possession fall much more heavily on some demographic groups than others," Nixon wrote in the Executive Summary of his report.
The Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement: "Regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol takes marijuana sales out of the hands of criminals and puts them behind the counter in legitimate businesses that will generate significant new revenue for Hawaii. ... Law enforcement resources should be focused on preventing and responding to serious crimes rather than enforcing antiquated marijuana prohibition laws."
The House approved the first reading of HB 150 on Jan. 22.
Twenty-three states allow used of medical marijuana, and 12 will not jail people for possession of small amounts.
Washington and Colorado in the November elections became the only two states to legalize recreational marijuana use.
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