Hawaii County voters will weigh in this November on whether police should back off their pursuit of marijuana users and small growers.
The general election ballot will contain a proposed amendment to county code making adult personal use of pot the county's lowest law enforcement priority. This would apply to people with up to 24 plants and 24 ounces of usable marijuana. It would also prohibit the county from accepting federal money to eradicate the drug on the Big Island.
The proposal got its start with an organization called Project Peaceful Sky -- a reference to low-flying helicopters used in marijuana eradication. The group gathered 4,954 signatures of people supporting the lowest priority concept, but the county found only 2,214 to be valid. A total of 4,848 signatures were needed to put the proposal to a vote of the people. The County Council then stepped in and accepted the petition in August for a public vote on a 5-4 vote.
Adam Lehmann, Peaceful Sky Board director, said eradication efforts have wasted resources, have never been successful and have kept marijuana on the black market while driving up the street value of the drug.
Lehmann said he objects to taxpayer money being used to mistreat people.
"It seems to me they do check anyone who has a medical card. It gives them a reason to fly their helicopters. So many people are not happy with the helicopters," he said.
Hawaii County prosecutor Jay Kimura said anything that makes drugs more readily available is a bad idea. Kimura also doubted the council has the authority to tell its police chief how to deal with a substance controlled under state and federal laws.
"In my opinion, this is beyond the scope of what the county has the authority to do. There are some preemption issues," Kimura said. "I don't think it's a practical thing for the council to be directing the chief to pick one drug over another. It isn't workable. Police also take an oath to enforce the law."
The pre-emption doctrine prohibits legislative bodies from micro-managing the operations of its individual departments. County Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida said he'll ask the state attorney general to rule on the legality of the proposal, should it pass the voters.
Lehmann said the county had 20 days to notify him if there was any problem with the initiative being put to a vote. But he's not worried about conflicts with the preemption doctrine, saying the bill specifies that the provisions can be carried out only to the extend allowed by the Hawaii Constitution and state statutes, and other aspects of the bill that aren't enforceable shall serve as "an advisory of the will of the people."
Lehmann said he's optimistic "there's a really good chance this is going to pass. If people read the details and really look at what this is, they'll support it."
Kimura said that state Department of Health surveys continue to show alcohol and drugs as problems that students consistently identify. An annual youth summit also identifies marijuana as being readily available on campus and a problem for students, he said.
In reference to protections in the measure for up to 24 plants and 24 ounces, Kimura said, "In my estimation, that's a large amount. If someone is growing that much, I don't think it could just be for personal use."
"I think this is part of an ongoing effort to legalize use of marijuana. There is a popular culture of marijuana and a national movement to legalize it by calling it medicine," Kimura said. "But if you analyze it from a medical perspective, you see more negatives than positives."
The initiative would protect the cultivation, possession and personal use of the drug on private property.
"I'm primarily an organic farmer, and no one grows marijuana on this property, but the helicopters go back and forth and back and forth. It's so obviously unconstitutional and wrong," Lehmann said. "By making adult personal use their lowest priority, they'll give themselves more time to focus on other crimes -- teen use, public use, driving under the influence, large grower operations and trafficking."
Kona Councilmember Brenda Ford said she objected to the contents of the bill but supported the democratic principle of letting the voters decide.
"When you have 5,000 people sign a petition, it's time to put it on the ballot," Ford said. "I don't like the bill, personally. I don't support the legalization of marijuana. But because this is such a controversial bill, I felt each voter should become their own councilor."
Other items voters will find on their ballot include several charter amendments:
- Proposal 2: Initiative and Referendum
Changes to Article XI of the County Charter, so that ordinances approved by initiative can't be amended by council vote, except for a two-thirds vote, for three years.
As it stands now, the council could use a 5-4 vote to nullify an initiative passed by the voters.
The measure is designed to make it easier for the will of the people to be carried out without being thwarted by the council, said Council Chairman Pete Hoffmann.
"Some in the community were afraid that, on a contentious issue, the electorate might want a change, but councilors could nullify all this work," Hoffmann said. "We wanted the general public to be given a chance to see the results of their efforts. We want people to participate in government."
The amendment would also make the petitioner's committee rather than the county clerk responsible for the ballot title, question and summary.
Petitioners would also have to state somewhere on the petition if they're being paid to collect signatures. People who sign petitions would no longer have to provide an address, but would have to add their month and day of birth and the last four digits of their social security number.
- Proposal 3: Office of the Legislative Auditor
Establish an Office of Legislative Auditor to perform independent audit functions. In essence, the move would take the hiring of the legislative auditor out of the hands of the county clerk and give it to the council, which would appoint the auditor for six-year terms and be able to remove the auditor with a two-thirds vote.
The legislative auditor is currently hired by the county clerk with the consent of the council, and serves a term the same length as the county clerk's.
Current legislative auditor Colleen Schrandt said the amendment is designed to give greater independence to the office, which in turn frees up the auditor to follow the "Yellow Book," a manual issued by the U.S. Comptroller General outlining standard government auditing practices.
"If we're going to do audits in compliance with the Yellow book, one of the things we have to be able to show is that we're independent," Schrandt explained. "Right now, we can't audit the legislative branch."
The Yellow Book requires that an auditor have independence, professional judgment, competence and quality control.
The bill calls for greater accountability in government, including independent assessments of county agencies and programs to determine if taxpayer dollars are being handled properly. This includes examining whether the agencies and programs are meeting their objectives and resources are being used efficiently.
- Proposal 4: Civil and Criminal Penalties
The amendment doubles the maximum fine for criminal penalties from $1,000 to $2,000, the first increase since 1964. The amendment also clarifies language to make a greater distinction between civil and criminal penalties for violations of the county charter. Criminal penalties can involve jail time as well as fines.
The increase brings the county up to the level of fines the state has in place, said Ford, who noted the fines aren't for traffic violations but serious and repeated violations of the charter, such as a developer failing to get authorization before making changes in a flood channel designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
by Bret Yager
Sunday, October 19, 2008 7:25 AM HST