Big Island rejects federal funds for war on pot
The Green Harvest 'no' vote by the Hawaii County Council is not final
HILO » With Hawaii County Councilman Bob Jacobson calling for an end to the "marijuana war," the Council rejected three federal grants totaling $582,000 for marijuana eradication.
That could mark the end of 30 years of "Green Harvest" eradication efforts by Hawaii County police.
But there was no certainty. A second vote must be taken before the money can be removed from the county's 2007-2008 budget.
And the Council has rejected federal eradication money before, voting against it in 2000 but resuming acceptance in 2001.
HILO » The Hawaii County Council voted this week to remove $582,000 of federal anti-marijuana money from the county's 2007-2008 budget.
The move could be the end of 30 years of so-called Green Harvest eradication missions, or it could be a signal that the program will survive, but with a major face lift.
"I'm stoked," said marijuana legalization advocate Roger Christie. "It's the beginning of the end of cannabis eradication."
But Councilman Stacy Higa, who cast a lukewarm vote to keep the money out of the budget, said the action was a technicality that will lead to more discussion.
With the Council split 4-4, Higa twice voted "kanalua," a Hawaiian word meaning "undecided." By law, two such votes are counted as a "yes" vote.
But the kanalua votes also signaled that Higa might change his vote later.
Another vote is needed June 1 before the budget is approved for the mayor's signature.
The county accepts grants from a variety of agencies, Higa said. The eradication grants are the only ones placed directly in the budget at the beginning of the fiscal year, he said.
With their removal from the budget, the Police Department would have to come to the Council later and give a detailed justification of the eradication program, he said.
Higa said he has heard countless stories of police helicopters hovering over people's homes and officers rappelling down ropes into people's yards.
"I believe in due process," he said. After marijuana is spotted from the air, "I want to see a search warrant. Send in a ground crew," he said.
Councilman Dominic Yagong voted against placing the federal money in the budget, saying he would like to see a one-year moratorium on helicopter-based eradication.
That was an about-face for Yagong, who voted for anti-marijuana money in 1997, saying his constituents were for it.
"Back then, there was zero talk of 'ice' (crystal methamphetamine)," he said. "Things have certainly changed with hard drugs."
One of his own family members had his life ruined by methamphetamine, he said.
Federal eradication money cannot be switched to fight hard drugs, but police staffing can be freed up from not fighting marijuana, he said.
Council Chairman Pete Hoffmann voted for the money. "Police have a hard enough time trying to enforce the laws," he said. "I don't want to strip the capability from them."
The police were surprised by the move. Assistant Chief James Day said the chief and deputy chief were off island, and he was called to testify Wednesday after dozens of marijuana advocates were well into several hours of testimony against the money, he said.
The first eradication, and the only one officially called Green Harvest, was in 1978. It was a time when marijuana growers, some of them Vietnam War veterans, were carrying weapons, setting up combat-style booby traps, even shooting at telephone workers putting up wires.
By the 1990s, councilmembers were having doubts about the helicopter missions. In 2000 they voted against accepting $265,000 in federal eradication funds, two-thirds of the program's money that year. But the following year, they accepted the full amount offered.