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Monday, May 8, 2000

Marijuana eradication
campaign is threatened

Bullet The issue: The Big Island marijuana eradication campaign is threatened by a decision of the Hawaii County Council and a state senator's condition for the release of state funds.
Bullet Our view: Developments indicate progress for the campaign to legalize marijuana.

COULD the Legislature's approval of marijuana for medical purposes be the first step toward full legalization? Two developments last week related to the police campaign to destroy marijuana plants on the Big Island -- Operation Green Harvest -- seem to lead in that direction.

The Hawaii County Council voted 6-3 to defer acceptance of $265,000 in federal funds to help finance the marijuana raids. Council Chairman Jimmy Arakaki and Vice Chairman Al Smith, who had previously voted to approve other marijuana eradication grants, voted to defer action, citing concern about county liability. They said the state should assume responsibility for the raids.

However, Sen. Andy Levin, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, said he will block funding for the marijuana eradication campaign unless state officials satisfy complaints that the helicopters used in the campaign are noisy and invade residents' privacy. Levin, who represents a Big Island district, admits he doesn't want Green Harvest to continue, but says he is "hoping to start a dialogue" between the state and the community.

Gary Moniz, chief of enforcement for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the state will comply with the requirement of community meetings. But it looks as though the noise issue will be used as a pretext to shut down helicopter operations, which are essential to the campaign.

State sanction of marijuana for medical purposes is problematic because such use remains illegal under federal law and because marijuana has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Moreover, it would complicate enforcement of the state general ban on marijuana because of the danger that the medical exemption would be abused.

This would be less disturbing if it were accompanied by official affirmations of continuing determination to enforce the law against marijuana except for medical purposes.

Instead we get a county council vote to defer action on acceptance of federal funding for Green Harvest and a state senator blocking release of funds until complaints about helicopter noise and invasions of privacy are satisfied.

Crippling Green Harvest operations would give the green light to growers to step up their efforts. That would probably mean an increase in supply and a drop in price, which would encourage more consumption. Legalization of marijuana for medical purposes could create problems for police trying to distinguish between legitimate use and abuse.

Advocates of legalized marijuana should be encouraged. The signs suggest they are making progress. The rest of us should be worried that marijuana use may become even more widespread.

Radical’s London win
displeases Tony Blair

Bullet The issue: "Red Ken" Livingstone won the first election for mayor of London, over the opposition of Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Bullet Our view: Blair's program of returning power to regional and local governments backfired.

RADICAL "Red Ken" Livingstone led the Greater London Council until it was disbanded in 1986 by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Under his leadership, the council declared the capital a nuclear-free zone, supported the outlawed Irish Republican Army, backed gay rights and slashed subway fares.

Now Livingstone is back in power as London's first elected mayor, much to the displeasure of Prime Minister Tony Blair. Livingstone was expelled from Blair's Labor Party after deciding to run as an independent. Labor's candidate finished third in the election Thursday.

Blair, who has moved the formerly liberal Labor Party to the center in a successful effort to regain office, had said a victory for Livingstone in the London mayoral election would be a disaster. In the wake of his victory, the humbled prime minister could only say, "People in London have spoken. We accept their verdict. And we've got to make it work for them."

In a sense, Blair had only himself to blame. He created the job of mayor and the 25-member London Assembly as part of his program of returning powers to regional and local governments.

But he didn't count on Livingstone winning the mayor's job. Blair's efforts to thwart Livingstone apparently backfired, strengthening his image as an independent.

The London mayor will serve as an ambassador for the capital's 7.25 million residents, oversee a $5.3 billion budget and assume responsibility for the police, transportation, fire and emergency services. The position comes with only limited tax-raising powers; most fiscal authority remains with the national government.

Conservative Steve Norris, who finished second to Livingstone, seemed to have it right with his observation: "I think martyrdom is still the most attractive party. Practically every decent person in the country felt some sympathy for Ken. Labor will bear the consequences of that."

Livingstone's election wasn't the only bad news for Blair. Returns showed Labor losing significant ground to the opposition Conservative Party in elections for more than 3,300 seats on 152 local councils. Trouble on both the left and right.

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