Press Release: Drug War Redux, US Attorney-General Embraces the Past as Hawai’i is Poised to Move Forward

Drug War Redux: US Attorney-General Embraces the Past as Hawai’i is Poised to Move Forward


CONTACT: Carl Bergquist, Executive Director, Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii

(808) 518-3213;


HONOLULU, HI – Today, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions made good on previous promises and issued a directive to all US Attorneys ordering them to seek more uniform, harsher sentences including for non-violent drug offenders. The Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i (DPFHI) rejects this time traveling to past failures that have such a racially disparate impact.  Hawai’i like most of the country is actually moving in the opposite direction by embracing a compassionate, commonsensical and evidence-based approach to criminal justice. Further, the US Supreme Court in a string of rulings has called into question federal sentencing guidelines and other aspects related to mandatory minimums.

In its recently concluded 2017 session, the Hawai’i State Legislature overwhelmingly passed a law (HB1501) reducing the penalty for non-violent drug paraphernalia offenses from a maximum five year sentence with a hefty fine to a civil violation with a maximum fine of $500. This was done out of recognition that locking up nonviolent drug users not only overburdens our jails and prisons – the conditions of which the ACLU of Hawai’i have called unconstitutional – but that criminalizing drug use is no way to help someone in need of treatment.

As recently as last month, the US Supreme Court issued yet another ruling that highlights issues with constantly seeking harsher penalties. In a quest to seek more uniform sentences, the US had been seeing longer sentences for nonviolent drug and other offenses and an elimination of judge discretion to take individual circumstances into account. In 2005, the Court ruled that the sentencing guidelines should be advisory and not mandatory, restoring judge discretion. Then this April, the Supreme Court ruled the judges do not need to hand out multiple mandatory sentences.

In other words, this “Island in the Pacific”, many other states and the US Supreme Court are on a path at odds with AG Sessions retrogressive policy. This is why we are urging Governor David Ige to sign HB1501 into law forthwith, sending a strong signal that Hawai’i understands that public safety is enhanced by a smart approach that instead of criminalizing drug use, takes public health into account and reserves resources for the most serious offenders.

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