Gabbard among lawmakers aiming to decriminalize marijuana

HILO — Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is one of several co-sponsors for a bipartisan bill aimed at decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Gabbard, a Democrat representing the 2nd District, and the bill’s introducer, Republican Rep. Tom Garrett of Virginia addressed the measure Wednesday during a press conference in Washington, D.C. They were accompanied by parents whose children take cannabidiol oil to help with seizures.

In written statement, Gabbard called the current federal laws “archaic” and said they were “turning everyday Americans into criminals.”

She said she had signed on to the bill because it was part of an overall effort to reform an “overburdened and broken” criminal justice system.

“This bill is a bipartisan effort that will be a great step forward in solving many of the fiscal and social challenges that our current policy is causing,” she said.

Marijuana has already been decriminalized in 21 states, which typically means that first-time offenders for possession will not be arrested or face prison time.

Recreational marijuana is legal in eight states.

In Hawaii, marijuana is legal for medical use. A bill for decriminalization was introduced to the state Senate during this year’s legislative session, but it did not receive any hearings.

State Sen. Russell Ruderman, a co-sponsor of the state bill, said he did not think a local or a national

decriminalization effort would be successful because of “uncertainty at the federal level.”

President Donald Trump has not yet addressed marijuana decriminalization or legalization, but as a candidate he spoke in favor of medical marijuana.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, is not in favor of legalization or decriminalization, noting in a speech given in March that “our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”

At the state level, Ruderman said, “I don’t think this (was) the year to go forward and stick our heads out.”

The U.S. House bill is also aimed at helping nascent industrial hemp markets, like Hawaii’s.

An industrial hemp pilot program was approved last year by the state Legislature. This year, funding for the program was appropriated.

Industrial hemp contains less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (the psychoactive component of marijuana), but because it comes from the same plant as marijuana, it can only be cultivated under strict regulations.

Gabbard also has supported federal legislation that would make it easier to grow industrial hemp nationwide.

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