Funds to fight pot on Big Isle
KAILUA-KONA » The Hawaii County Council is moving ahead with plans to accept federal funds for its controversial marijuana eradication program.
In a preliminary vote last week, the council agreed 6-2 to accept a $282,000 Drug Enforcement Administration grant for the police department's marijuana eradication program. The council will vote on the measure a second time, but that vote is considered a mere formality.
The council last week also voted to amend its operating budget for the fiscal year to include a $159,000 state grant for marijuana eradication.
The program has long come under fire from some residents, who claim the low-level helicopter reconnaissance flights are intrusive and disruptive. Some say the flights are unconstitutional because police don't have warrants to search their properties from the air.
They say the money would be better spent fighting hard drugs such as crystal methamphetamine.
Paul Kazawa, who has a medical-marijuana permit, said helicopters regularly swoop low over his Hawaiian Home Lands residence.
"(The police) know where I am and what I grow," Kazawa told the county council last week. "They are just (flying) over there irritating me."
But local police say the grants free up funds for other police programs.
They add that eradication efforts result in arrests for dozens of other violations and the recovery of other types of drugs, money and guns.
"Marijuana is tied into so many other drugs, so we're fighting all kinds of drug crimes," said Hilo Vice Division Lt. Sam Jelsma.
Police made 447 arrests in connection with marijuana eradication efforts with last year's grant money, Jelsma said. He said only 178 related to marijuana alone.
Hilo Councilman Stacy Higa urged policies and procedures be updated to protect people's privacy.
"That's an issue for a lot of people," he said. "Even if one home is targeted, it disturbs innocent neighbors all around."
Police typically fly at 1,000 feet unless they see something that demands closer inspection, Jelsma said.
That is a higher altitude than other counties require, police said.