HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Big Isle Vote Could Lessen Marijuana Enforcement
Pubdate: Tue, 19 Aug 2008
Source: Honolulu Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2008 The Honolulu Advertiser,
Author: Kevin Dayton, Advertiser Big Island Bureau
Cited: Project Peaceful Sky
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


Group Wants Small-Time Busts to Be County Police's Lowest Priority

HILO, Hawai'i -- The off-and-on political struggle over eradication 
and enforcement of anti-marijuana laws on the Big Island is moving to 
the fall election, when voters will be asked whether law enforcement 
officials should make busts of small-time marijuana users the 
county's lowest policing priority.

The proposed ordinance advanced by a group called "Project Peaceful 
Sky" -- and ordered onto the ballot by a split vote of the County 
Council -- would also prohibit the county from accepting any further 
state or federal money for marijuana eradication operations.

However, County Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida said the proposed 
ordinance to be placed on the ballot may be unenforceable even if the 
voters do approve it because it apparently violates the pre-emption 
doctrine arising from the U.S. and Hawai'i state constitutions.

That doctrine says legislative bodies such as the County Council 
cannot dictate to executive branch agencies such as the police and 
prosecutors how to run their day-to-day operations.

The initiative to de-emphasize marijuana enforcement appears to do 
just that, Ashida said, and he will ask the state attorney general's 
office to rule on whether the ordinance is legal if the voters approve it.

Marijuana eradication and police efforts to enforce marijuana 
prohibition have been perennial political issues on the Big Island, 
where the noise from low-flying eradication helicopters often 
infuriates residents in otherwise quiet rural neighborhoods.

Police Opposed

Arguably, marijuana use is more accepted in some Big Island 
communities than it is elsewhere in the state. The Big Island has by 
far the largest number of legally registered medical marijuana users 
of any county, and has long been home base for political activists 
seeking legalization of marijuana for medical, religious or recreational use.

Cannabis is also a significant part of the underground economy, with 
police seizing millions of dollars worth of marijuana plants last year alone.

Police and county Prosecutor Jay Kimura oppose the proposed 
ordinance. Police Maj. Sam Thomas, who oversees police operations in 
East Hawai'i from Volcano to Hamakua, said the proposed ordinance 
creates "gray areas" that will hamper police officers' anti-drug efforts.

"There is so much gray in there, and police officers, we don't do 
well in gray. We need to have a lot of black and white," he said.

The current proposal was advanced by Project Peaceful Sky, which has 
registered as a nonprofit and calls itself a "grassroots" 
organization advocating for the initiative.

The proposed ordinance would require that "the cultivation, 
possession and use for adult personal use of Cannabis shall be the 
Lowest Law Enforcement Priority for law enforcement agencies in the 
county of Hawai'i."

The proposal would apply to adult personal users on private property, 
with "personal use" defined as people who have less than 24 plants or 
24 ounces of cannabis.

Ballot Attempt Invalid

Project Peaceful Sky needed to submit signatures of 4,848 registered 
voters to get the proposal on the ballot. Volunteers collected 4,954 
signatures, but County Clerk Casey Jarman ruled that only 2,214 of 
those signatures were valid.

More than 1,500 of the initiative supporters could not be confirmed 
as registered voters, 200 other signatures were invalid because 
signers failed to list a home address, and nearly 1,000 gave 
addresses that did not match their voter registrations.

Rather than let the issue drop, the council last week voted 5-4 to 
accept the petition anyway and deem it sufficient to place the 
question on the ballot.

Councilman Bob Jacobson, who introduced the council resolution to put 
the proposal on the ballot, said he wants to see the issue put to a 
public vote. Jacobson said a variety of people told him privately 
they wanted to sign the petition, but were embarrassed or were afraid 
to sign for fear they would suffer repercussions at work.

"Personally, I just believe it needs to be done," Jacobson said of 
the proposed ordinance. "There are better, higher priorities for 
police than running around trying to find a few casual marijuana users."

Adam Lehmann, board director of the Peaceful Sky effort, said his 
group collected the nearly 5,000 signatures in about two months, 
proving there is significant support for the idea.

"People are really tired of seeing money misappropriated away from 
education and healthcare to fund a military-style war on a plant," 
said Lehmann, 30.

"It's clearly going to give law enforcement more time and resources 
to focus on serious crimes. It's going to provide lots of space in 
our prisons, it's going to help courts run smoother, and it's going 
to essentially save this county's taxpayers millions of dollars every 
year," because they will avoid the costs of strict marijuana 
enforcement, he said.

Lehmann, an organic farmer in Kalapana, said he smokes marijuana 
himself as a sacrament for religious purposes.

Thomas said his read of the proposed ordinance is that when police 
come across small quantities of marijuana, "it pretty much tells us 
we have to ignore it."

He said 24 marijuana plants might not sound like a lot, but fully 
mature plants cultivated by an experienced farmer can yield up to a 
pound of usable marijuana. With a street value of $6,000 per pound, 
that crop would be worth $144,000, and Thomas said it would be 
"pretty tempting" to cash in.

Tool Against Meth

Many people don't understand that marijuana raids can be a tool 
police use to snare methamphetamine dealers or other kinds of 
criminals, he said. When police see pot plants growing outside a 
suspected meth dealer's home, they use that evidence to obtain a 
search warrant to look for harder drugs.

"In this case, if I wanted to use the marijuana as the basis for a 
search warrant, no, I won't be allowed to do that," Thomas said.

Another problem is the state and federal anti-marijuana funds are 
used for "demand reduction" programs such as DARE and youth athletic 
events as well as for eradication, he said.

Thomas said he doesn't know if the measure will pass, but "one would 
have to question why they couldn't even get 4,000 qualified people to 
sign the petition."

Jacobson said he isn't sure which way the November voting will go.

"If people work really hard and get the message out, it has some 
chance of passage," Jacobson said. "The real work really begins now 
to try to educate the voters and get them out to the polls in November."

"I've had many very conservative people who are just completely fed 
up with this helicopter war that's going on. Many sensible people 
have recognized that the drug war was lost on marijuana many years 
ago," he said.

The Big Island County Council voted to reject federal or state grants 
for marijuana eradication programs earlier this year and in 2000, but 
the eradication program continued. This year, the funding for 
eradication was included in the county budget.



Plants seized last year: 24,197

Arrests for marijuana possession, cultivation or sale: 751

Marijuana cases investigated: 953

Federal and state anti-marijuana grants: $582,000*

Days police conducted helicopter marijuana missions: 27

* fiscal year 2007

calendar 2007 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake