Skip to main content

As states across the U.S. continue to challenge prohibition by decriminalizing cannabis use, Hawaii is set to make the boldest move yet. Lawmakers in the island state are proposing to commission a study looking at the merits of decriminalizing all drugs.

Tom Angell at reported on the resolution being considered in the House Judiciary Committee.

“The measure, if passed by both chambers of the legislature, would request that the state’s Legislative Reference Bureau “conduct a study on the feasibility and advisability of decriminalizing the illegal possession of drugs for personal use in Hawaii” so that such conduct “would constitute an administrative or civil violation rather than a criminal offense.”

In a testament to the advanced thinking of some Hawaii lawmakers, the resolution states, “despite 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.”

The study would look to Portugal as a model for their efforts, stating, “The positive results from Portugal’s drug decriminalization system provides a potential model for more effectively managing drug-related problems in the United States.”

That country, realizing the absurdity of prohibition, decriminalized all drugs in 2001, which led to a drastic reduction in drug use, overdoses and crime. The evidence is clear on how to approach drug abuse, and it is not through the force of the state.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended for You

The U.S. Surgeon General has recognized this and will be presenting the first-ever report on the “state of the science on substance use, addiction and health.” Surgeon General Vivek Murphy announced in January, “It’s time for us to have a conversation in this country that’s based on facts; A conversation that’s based on medicine and science.

In the face of so much violence and injustice being carried out by law enforcement and drug cartels, it is truly heartening to see public officials attempting to bring the U.S. out of the Reefer Madness era. Public sentiment toward the War on Drugs has shifted dramatically over the past couple of years, as people realize that government prohibition is misguided and the path to progress lies in personal freedom.

The United Nations, which was instrumental in fomenting the drug war with its 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961, is likely to overhaul their perspective during a Special Session on Drugs in April. Former Secretary General Kofi Annan penned an essay in February in anticipation of the event, calling out the war on drugs as a war on people.

“I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more. We all want to protect our families from the potential harm of drugs. But if our children do develop a drug problem, surely we will want them cared for as patients in need of treatment and not branded as criminals…

The tendency in many parts of the world to stigmatize and incarcerate drug users has prevented many from seeking medical treatment. In what other areas of public health do we criminalize patients in need of help? Punitive measures have sent many people to prison, where their drug use has worsened. A criminal record for a young person for a minor drug offence can be a far greater threat to their well-being than occasional drug use.”

There have been efforts in other states, namely Vermont and Maryland, to change course to a public health approach rather than a criminal crusade, but they were soundly defeated by drug war fanatics.

Perhaps Hawaii will be able to overcome the primitive, irrational tendencies of authority figures by passing the resolution for the drug policy study. It could prove to be a pivotal moment in our fight to end the drug war.