Hawaii council action ends pot eradication program | VailDaily.com

Hawaii council action ends pot eradication program

HILO, Hawaii ” Hawaii County Councilman Angel Pilago says the council’s rejection of a marijuana eradication program is part of a move to retain power that had been ceded to the state and federal governments.

The council this past week turned down federal and state money used to fund “Green Harvest,” an annual marijuana eradication program begun 30 years ago on the Big Island.

Many residents have opposed the program, saying the low-flying helicopter missions invade privacy and disrupt rural life. Critics also say it has done little to eradicate marijuana over the past three decades and has even promoted use of other drugs, such as crystal methamphetamine, or “ice.”

This year’s tab of $441,000 included federal and state funds, as well as $53,000 in matching funds from the county budget.

Earlier this month, the council voted 5-3 to accept the money, but that vote was deemed invalid because the required legislation wasn’t published in local newspapers, as required by law.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Pilago, the North Kona councilman and mayoral candidate who supported the program in the past, changed his position.

The move, along with one council member’s absence, resulted in a 4-4 tie and the failure of the legislation.

“This will have long-term impacts,” Pilago said. “When we institute programs we, the county government, need to look at if they are detrimental to people’s rights and the health and safety of the community. That’s what we do.”

Public testimony has been overwhelmingly opposed to the “Green Harvest” program over the years.

And now the grass roots Project Peaceful Sky group has started a petition drive to make the enforcement of marijuana laws the police department’s lowest priority. The group says it has about 3,000 of the 10,000 signatures needed to get the initiative on the November ballot.

“That has major long-term implications for us all,” said Pilago, who has signed the petition. “It’s a huge issue for me. It echoes the basic principles of our democracy.

This is really the people’s choice and the people’s voice, and that doesn’t happen all the time at the county level.”

Pilago said he hopes the issue is the beginning of a shift in Hawaii County’s governing principles.

“It’s about home rule,” he said. “The county must be assertive and aggressive and not defer certain powers to the state and federal governments. We must not cede those powers.”

Mayor Harry Kim previously has said he supports medical marijuana, but also believes the law should be upheld.

“My position is no secret,” he said. “I support eradication, as long as it’s done in a way that is not harmful to people who should not be harmed, as far as noise and catchment systems and all those concerns. I’m against all drugs. Marijuana is an illegal drug.”

The first eradication effort was in 1978, when some marijuana growers were known to carry weapons or set up combat-style booby traps.

By the 1990s, council-members expressed reservations about the helicopter missions. In 2000, they rejected $265,000 in federal eradication funds, two-thirds of the program’s money that year. But the following year, they once again accepted the full amount offered.

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