Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News
Pot scarcity,
price may fuel
ice boom

UH researchers
want to study a possible link
between the two

By Joan Conrow

"Hawaii's marijuana industry, driven by an insatiable demand, is the root of Hawaii's drug problem."

So said "A Survey of Hawaii's War on Drugs," a 1989 state attorney general's report that called for slowing the tide of substance abuse by wiping out pakalolo.

But some people believe the fall of marijuana has given rise to "ice," a smokable, highly addictive form of crystal methamphetamine.

"I believe there is a connection," said Donald Topping, director of the University of Hawaii's Social Science Research Institute.

His group is seeking grants to study the state's marijuana eradication program, especially its possible link to ice.

A 1990 state auditor's report said Hawaii's effort "did not assess the negative impact of reducing the marijuana supply, such as driving users toward more dangerous drugs."

Police and others in law enforcement generally dismiss any connection between the scarcity and high cost of marijuana and the growing use of ice.

The drugs create opposite effects, said Maui vice Capt. Paul Winters, and ice users often turn to marijuana to help them come down from the intense, speedy high.

But Big Island Rep. David Tarnas said coaches, human service workers and others tell him that young people are experimenting with harder substances because they get more bang for their buck.

"It's less expensive now to get one hit of heroin, ice or crack than to buy a joint, and they're much more highly addictive," Tarnas said. "Compared in toxicity and harm to society, marijuana is very, very low."

Police say the typical drug purchase is about $100, whether it's for one-tenth of a gram of ice, a gram of cocaine, a quarter-ounce of marijuana or "paper" of black tar heroin.

It's difficult to compare the cost per dose, police say, because the quality of the substances and duration of the high can vary.

An "ice" high, for example, can last 14 hours.

Most information on the ice-pot connection is anecdotal, although Topping said statistics show that plant eradication reached its climax in 1987 and 1988, "the exact years we see the introduction and rise and spread of crystal meth."

A 1995 survey of UH students found that 6.4 percent of the Hawaii respondents had tried ice, compared with .6 percent of mainland college students.

"They're of the generation when marijuana eradication was kicking into high gear," said researcher Ken Szymkowiak.

"I would never say there's a connection, but it has to be looked at.

"If we don't figure out why they've used crystal meth, we're walking around in the dark."

In a study based on interviews with 150 Honolulu ice users from 1991-94, Patricia Morgan, a researcher with the University of California at Berkeley, states that many began smoking ice when marijuana, their traditional drug of choice, became expensive and scarce.

Morgan found that 92 percent of Hawaii's crystal meth users smoke the drug, and 86 percent began using it after 1984.

This pattern differs sharply from the mainland, where the drug is overwhelmingly snorted or injected and most use began from 1976 to 1987.

The report also states that the arrival of ice followed the clampdown on pakalolo, and that the drug was distributed through the same "local kinship networks" that had grown and sold marijuana.

A similar pattern was found in California, where cocaine use flourished in the mid-1980s following an aggressive pot eradication program, Morgan said.

Who uses pot regularly in isles

Based on a sample size of 2,000 people over the age of 18. Numbers indicate the percentage of people in each group who use marijuana regularly.


  • Less than high school: 3.6
  • High school graduates: 4.7
  • College and postcollege graduates: 7.3
  • Ethnicity

  • Caucasian: 10.5
  • Hawaiian: 7.3
  • Portuguese: 6.1
  • Filipino: 2.1
  • Japanese: 1.8
  • Other: 10.2
  • Source: Hawaii Behavioral Health Study, 1991

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