FUNDS FOR MARIJUANA REMOVAL REJECTED
Big Island Police Say Council Vote May Limit Other Law Enforcement
HILO, Hawai'i -- For the second time in eight years, the Big Island County Council has refused to accept grant money to finance county marijuana eradication programs, and Big Island police say that move may hamper other law enforcement work, including efforts to crack down on harder drugs.
The council last week deadlocked in a 4-4 vote over whether to accept $282,000 in federal money and $159,000 in state funds to target marijuana-growing operations. The tie means the council will not accept the money, and East Hawai'i Vice Commander Lt. Samuel Jelsma said he is not aware of any plan by police to resubmit the measures to the council for reconsideration.
Danielle Ciccone, who submitted testimony to the council opposed to eradication, said she hopes the vote will increase public awareness of the problems with the overflights. She sees the eradication efforts as violations of residents' constitutional right to be free of illegal searches and seizures of their property.
"I think they should respect the people and respect the council and cease these overflights immediately for good of the land and the good of the people," she said.
Ciccone is a supporter of Project Peaceful Sky, an initiative organizers say has collected 3,000 signatures on a petition urging the county to make marijuana eradication "the lowest police priority."
Previously, grant funds have covered the costs tied to renting private helicopters for flights to spot marijuana patches and transport officers to remote locations to yank out plants. Jelsma said that work will continue, although "we will have to adapt our operations around this decision."
"It is our sworn duty to enforce all state laws, and the illegal cultivation of marijuana will continue to be one of our department's priorities," Jelsma said. "We will not turn a blind eye to its proliferation simply because a vocal minority may feel that it is acceptable."
Jelsma said eradication grant money was also tapped to train officers locally or on the Mainland for drug enforcement operations of all types, including efforts to curb distribution of methamphetamine and cocaine.
"We don't have that option now," he said. Training for ice and cocaine enforcement will have to come from more limited grant money the department has received to target hard drugs, he said.
In addition, the marijuana grant money was to pay overtime for officers involved in eradication programs, and that overtime pay will now have to come from the overall police budget, Jelsma said.
Big Island police now plan to rely more heavily on the Hawai'i Army National Guard and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration for helicopters for observation flights. He said the department is also in discussions with "other agencies" to obtain additional helicopter access.
If that access isn't available, police plan to fly helicopters to spot marijuana plants, and then dispatch officers on the ground to serve search warrants and remove plants.
"Our goal is to prevent the opening of the Pandora's box on illegal growing of marijuana to the point where it reverts back to the 1970s when it was out of control and the public was demanding the police take action against it."
The council refused to accept grant money in late 2000, but later voted to accept eradication grant money in 2001 with a condition that police would follow new administrative rules.
Those rules required that spotting helicopters stay at least 1,000 feet away from homes in rural subdivisions, and that officers recognize licensed users of marijuana under the state medical marijuana law.
Newshawk: An Injury to One is an Injury to All
Pubdate: Mon, 26 May 2008
Source: Honolulu Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2008 The Honolulu Advertiser
Author: Kevin Dayton, Advertiser Big Island Bureau
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/pot.htm (Marijuana)