On July 9, 2019, Hawaii became the 26th state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. HB 1383 (the “Law”), which became law when Governor David Ige allowed the veto deadline to pass without signing or striking down the bill, decriminalizes the possession of up to three grams of marijuana. It will go into effect on January 11, 2020.

Under the Law, those caught with up to three grams of marijuana will no longer face jail time but will still face a fine of $130. This is the smallest amount of marijuana that any state has decriminalized so far. Currently, possession of any amount of cannabis is punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a criminal record, and a $1,000 fine.

The Law also provides for the expungement “of criminal records pertaining solely to the possession of three grams or less of marijuana.” The state has amended its expungement statute in order to reflect this change, noting that courts must grant an expungement order, provided the individual is not facing any other criminal charges, and provided that the amount of marijuana possessed was three grams or less.

The Law establishes a “Marijuana Evaluation Task Force,” in an effort to examine other states’ laws, penalties and outcomes related to the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana. The task force, which will be active until June 30, 2021, will make recommendations on further changing marijuana laws in Hawaii.

The Law does not provide employment protections for recreational users, nor does it modify Hawaii’s Medical Use of Cannabis Law, which was amended last year in part to form a working group to evaluate potential discrimination against medical cannabis users and the employment protections made available in other states.

Employers and health care professionals should be ready to handle issues that arise with the potential conflict between state and federal law in devising compliance programs, both in terms of reporting and human resources issues, including practices and policies addressing drug use and drug testing. States continue to consider – and pass – legislation to decriminalize and legalize cannabis (both medicinal and recreational), and we are slowly marching toward 50-state legalization. All organizations – and particularly those with multi-state operations – should review and evaluate their current policies with respect to marijuana use by employees and patients.