Hawaii Narrows Cannabis Expungement Bill to Single-County Pilot

Hawaii is inching closer to legalizing recreational marijuana, but lawmakers have scaled back a key provision aimed at clearing past cannabis convictions. The state Senate has amended a bill that originally proposed automatically expunging tens of thousands of low-level marijuana convictions statewide.

Instead, the revised measure would establish a pilot expungement program limited to just one county – likely Hawaii County on the Big Island. The amendment aligns with a proposal from state Attorney General Anne Lopez, who threatened to oppose the broader expungement plan citing resource constraints.

“Instead of the statewide automatic expungement, I propose we adopt the attorney general’s pilot program for state-initiated expungement of marijuana possession arrests,” said Senate Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads.

The pilot would only apply to arrests that didn’t result in convictions. The original House bill allowed for expungement of all possession offenses up to 3 grams, including convictions, arrests, and pending charges.

Advocates had hailed that broader provision as a milestone for cannabis justice, automatically clearing an estimated 30,000 records. But the amended version draws criticism for falling short on restorative reforms.

“This represents a severe blow to cannabis justice,” said Karen O’Keefe of the Marijuana Policy Project. “An economic life sentence is an outrageously disproportionate penalty for possessing a substance that most Hawaii residents believe should be legal.”

The expungement changes come as Hawaii’s recreational marijuana legalization bill also advances. Last week, the Senate passed a measure allowing adult possession and sales, sending it to the more conservative House.

As more states embrace legalizing cannabis, many are grappling with how to provide relief to those ensnared by prior marijuana laws. Hawaii’s approach aims for an initial limited expungement effort that could inform broader reforms.


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