Wednesday, September 22, 1999

Not all Big Isle lawmakers
high on marijuana
eradication grant

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- Hawaii County Council member Nancy Pisicchio from Kona doesn't want marijuana legalized here. Legalization would flood the county with marijuana growers, she says.

But Pisicchio will vote today against accepting federal money for marijuana eradication, feeling the helicopters used by police invade people's privacy.

She's likely to be on the losing side.

Council members already have cast votes in the Finance Committee 6-3 in favor of accepting a new federal grant of $255,500.

Councilwoman Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd from Hilo will vote for accepting the federal money.

People in her district complain that apparent marijuana growers are invading their privacy.

In Piihonua above Hilo, cars are seen coming and going to former sugar cane lands abandoned with the close of sugar companies, now used by some to grow marijuana.

"There's lots of traffic late into the night," Leithead-Todd said.

And there's vandalism, theft and speeding on the streets.

"(Residents) want us to do the helicopter eradication," she said.

In central Kona, Pisicchio says "regular people" have complained to her about helicopters.

"A very upstanding member of the community told me how the community (above Captain Cook village) is harassed," she said.

Tour helicopters may be responsible, but when citizens blame police, it's a failure of police public relations, she said.

Another perception is that police put too little effort into combating hard drugs, she said.

A special report to the council said cocaine use in Hawaii is decreasing and heroin use is "stable at a low level."

Pisicchio, a Democrat, is joined in her criticism by Julie Jacobson, a Green from the Puna-Kau-South Kona district.

She is concerned about alleged contamination of drinking water by state agents spraying at marijuana plants from helicopters.

They are joined by Curtis Tyler, a Republican, who opposes taking the federal money. "It does not appear to be effective."

The three from different parties often vote together, in the minority, on a variety of matters, the only common link appearing to be that they are from adjoining districts in the west and south of the island.

Councilman Leningrad Elarionoff from Waimea is a Republican who usually votes with the Democratic majority.

A retired police captain, he supports taking the federal money. He says there should be no confusion with tour helicopters. Police helicopters are marked HPD.

The program is effective, he said. In the 1980s, police used to find 30,000 plants per operation. Nothing near those numbers are found now. Marijuana has been virtually eliminated in areas around Waimea, he said.

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