Pass, unamended

Karl RhoadsRecent actions by Karl Rhoads and the House Judiciary Committee (JUD) demonstrate that when it comes to HB1829, there indeed is something to hide.  After hearing the bill nearly a week ago, they not only have advanced the bill without any amendments or consideration of public testimony in opposition — but they are now withholding that testimony from view by the public.  Withholding testimony from public view is a low blow – even for a corrupt government official.

Initial impressions were that this bill was attempting to hide a lot; actions by Rhoads, JUD and House leaders only confirm that suspicion.  Something sinister is afoot at the Legislature. [1]

As of Friday morning (February 19th), no public testimony has been made available online for viewing, even though the committee found the time to author and post a report on HB1829.  This is in stark contrast to assertions that the committee report makes:

The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, Drug Policy Action Group, The Libertarian Party of Hawaii, Hawaii Dispensary Alliance, and a concerned individual supported this measure.  The Department of the Attorney General, Department of the Prosecuting Attorney of the City and County of Honolulu, Honolulu Police Department, and numerous concerned individuals opposed this measure.  A concerned individual offered comments.

Even by the committee report, only five pieces of testimony were received in support of the measure.  Even if “numerous” were only three individuals, it tips the balance of the testimony against passage of the measure.  By simply saying “numerous”, it is clear that the committee is not only trying to hide, but to understate how much testimony is in opposition.  How many is numerous?  Rhoads does not want you to know.

When evaluating the testimony, it is important to weigh the testimony accordingly. [2]  The first three testifiers mentioned favor the legalization of all drugs (including crystal meth) because drug users have feelings too! [3]  They do not care about public safety.  They do not care about the coked-up driver that might hit you, or the meth-addled dealer selling the stuff to your children.  The Hawaii Dispensary Alliance certainly supports it because the bill removes the offense (and associated penalty) for the unlawful diversion of medical marijuana. [4]  The removal of this offense expands their market far beyond medical users – these dispensaries and production centers will be growing marijuana for recreational use.

What should be a red flag is that the Attorney General (AG), the Honolulu County Prosecutor and the Honolulu Police Department (where are the neighbor island prosecutors and police departments on this measure?) all oppose this measure.

It is highly unusual (even amongst the special interests and corruption of House leaders) for a bill to pass unamended against the weight of public testimony – particularly when the Attorney General the opposition carries so much merit and expertise.  This opposition almost always stems from something that is both legally and fatally flawed about the bill. [5]  In the event of opposition by the AG, there are normally amendments that attempt to address the feedback from the AG.  None of those exist in this context.

The failure to identify the specific statues that HB1829 modifies, the failure to make testimony public, and the failure to address the merit and the weight of the public testimony demonstrate that there is indeed something to hide behind this legislation.  Maybe one of the bill’s sponsors (Joe Souki, Scott Saiki, Sylvia Luke and Karl Rhoads) has themselves (or one of their family members) sold marijuana to a minor.  Maybe someone close to them intends to distribute medical marijuana for recreational purposes. Or maybe one of the sponsor’s stands to make money hand-over-fist from the lack of any safeguards built into medical marijuana dispensaries.  From the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (February 13, 2016)

But Rep. Marcus Oshiro, who has been a supporter of medical marijuana but a critic of the new dispensaries law, said there are already questions about favoritism or undue influence in the process to decide who will get licenses, and that this doesn’t help.

“It leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, and I wouldn’t want to touch this with a 10-foot pole,” said Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Poamoho). “Perception counts for a lot in politics, and from most people’s perspective it doesn’t look good to amend the laws that could benefit you or your friends.” [6]

This bill, and this hearing, fails to pass the smell test.  On the scale of “smells”, I am not talking about the smell of the black bin I roll out once a week for the City to pick up.  I am talking about the stench of the Sand Island (sewage treatment) plant when the winds shift.  This bill should be sent back to the House Judiciary Committee until the stench is gone.

[1] – Isn’t there always?

[2] – The House Judiciary Committee has used this merit argument to capriciously pass bills with a single piece of testimony in support against a mound of fifty or more pieces in opposition.

[3] – Or in the case of the Libertarian Party, “The government has no business regulating what I do to myself.  If I say that my activities are not harming anyone else, you MUST take my word at it.”

[4] – This was added to the original medical marijuana dispensary bill (HB 321, 2015) to ensure that medical marijuana stayed as medical marijuana – and was not sold on the street as recreational marijuana.

[5] – Special interests (dispensaries and marijuana users in particular) would like to think that the Attorney General hates drug users, but the AG rarely wastes time to submit testimony to that effect.  It erodes their credibility.

[6] Honolulu Star-Advertiser, February 13, 2016, “Lawmaker’s pakalolo ties might provoke suspicion