Fighting drug abuse
requires cool heads
and compromise


The Lingle administration has unveiled its legislative agenda for fighting drug abuse.

GOVERNOR Lingle and the Democratic-controlled Legislature are off to a combative start in their desire to continue the fight against drug abuse. The administration has proposed a smorgasbord of tactics, but the emphasis contrasts with the package approved by last year's Legislature. The two sides need to find common ground for an effective strategy.

The administration's plan, presented by Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, a former Drug Court judge, emphasizes tougher law enforcement and efforts to prevent young people from getting started on illicit drugs. Democrats in the Legislature call for more treatment of those already addicted. Aiona says there is "no silver bullet to solve the drug problem," and both sides include an array of ammunition in their arsenals.

Lingle refused to sign the $14.7 million drug-control package approved by last year's Legislature and delayed releasing $4 million of the funds beyond September, when service providers normally receive funding approved by the Legislature. She complained that the package was weighted too heavily on treatment instead of prevention and law enforcement, and waited until this month to release $1.28 million for adolescent substance abuse treatment.

The administration's legislative agenda this year includes improving police ability to use electronic surveillance, a proposal rejected by last year's Legislature. The measure is not extreme; it would bring Hawaii into conformity with a 36-year-old federal law and the statutes in about 40 states, allowing authorities to obtain a wiretap after a showing of probable cause of criminal activity. The present legal hoop-jumping in Hawaii is a major impediment to effective law enforcement.

One of Lingle's proposals would limit over-the-counter sales of ingredients in many cold remedies that also are used in the manufacture of crystal methamphetamine. It also would improve monitoring of prescription drugs subject to abuse and sharing of information with other states that are part of a nationwide tracking system.

Another Lingle bill would impose automatic prison sentences of 30 years to life on "habitual violent criminals" and jail time for felons convicted of major drug offenses and repeat drug offenders. Such mandatory sentencing is not necessary; judges already have discretion in imposing such sentences when appropriate.

The administration's budget includes $43.6 million over a two-year period to maintain funding for various drug treatment and prevention programs, including some of those approved by last year's Legislature. That includes $4 million for community and school-based prevention programs and $2 million for adolescent treatment.

A survey of Hawaii's teenagers taken before last year's legislative session but not released until this month showed a steady decline in use of crystal meth -- an indication that prevention efforts have worked. The results indicate that it might be time to focus on treating and rehabilitating ice-addicted adults, but with no expectations of a "silver bullet."

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