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'Pot' issue on Big Isle ballot


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POSTED: Tuesday, October 14, 2008

HILO » Big Island voters will decide an initiative question mandating that police assign their lowest priority to marijuana enforcement.

A petition drive to put the marijuana measure on the ballot failed, but the County Council decided 5-4 to give voters the final say. The proposal would also ban the county from accepting federal money for marijuana eradication and control.

Police Chief Lawrence Mahuna has said taking county police out of the picture could mean the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration stepping in and enforcing laws more stringently.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws says similar measures have been passed in Seattle; Oakland, Calif.; Denver; and Columbia, Mo.

Voters will also decide on four Council-proposed County Charter amendments. The first would set up two county planning commissions, one on each side of the island, instead of just one.

Some West Hawaii residents say the current commission, with the majority of members from East Hawaii, authorizes too many new developments on the west side.

The second proposal would allow advocates of initiatives and referendums to set the final wording on ballots, instead of the county clerk, and would require a two-thirds majority of the County Council to change any successful voter-passed measure during its first three years.

The third measure would make the county's legislative auditor independent from the county clerk and answerable directly to the County Council.

The fourth proposal would double penalties for violation of the County Charter to two years in jail from the present one, and double fines to $2,000 from the present $1,000.