Bill would change paraphernalia possession from felony to violation

HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers are pushing for a bill that lowers the punishment for people found in possession of drug paraphernalia.

The House of Representatives and Senate approved, at final reading Tuesday, House Bill 1501, which changes being in ownership of drug paraphernalia from a Class C felony to a violation, which carries a fine of no more than $500.

“When we are dealing with prison over-crowding, we need to be careful about what crimes are being violated,” said Dee Morikawa (D-16). “Being caught with the drug itself is severe enough, and finding drug residue on the paraphernalia is relevant to the crime of drug possession.”

Currently, possession of drug paraphernalia is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

The House passed the bill 16-9.

Justin Kollar, prosecuting attorney for the County of Kauai, said the measure won’t change the way attorneys handle drug cases.

However, the bill could have unintended consequences, like increasing the number of prosecutions for drug paraphernalia offenses, Kollar said in a testimony submitted to the House Judiciary Committee.

“It has been the long-standing practice of our office to not charge felony drug paraphernalia offenses for non-felony drug possession cases,” he said.

Another concern is that the lesser the punishment would also be applicable to more serious drugs, Kollar said.

“Our state remains mired in the grip of devastating methamphetamine and opiate epidemics and reducing penalties for offenses associated with distribution of those dangerous drugs would not benefit public health or public safety.”

HB 1501 will now go to Gov. David Ige for his signature.


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