Prosecutor continues to play down marijuana lawsuits

LIHU’E – A Kaua’i Police Department “Green Harvest” cannabis suppression program is set to continue this year.

The Kaua’i County Board on Wednesday unanimously approved a request from the KPD to receive and spend $35,000 in federal funds from the National Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.

“What we’re trying to do is keep Kaua’i honest. There is a legal way with dispensaries that have gone through all the regulations to be able to provide medical marijuana to people who need it,” KPD Deputy Chief of Investigative Services Office Bryson Ponce said. “We conduct our operations by examining illegal crops throughout the island. Looking at public lands, state lands, from time to time we can see some in someone’s yard.

Funds will be used for overtime, vehicle and aircraft rentals, trainings and technology for a two-day operation that will cost a total of $50,000 – of which the remaining $15,000 comes from local funding .

The program began in 1979 in Hawai’i and California, expanding to 25 states in 1982. As of 2020, the program was active in 36 states and included 126 law enforcement agencies.

As a result of the program, 6,606 people were arrested, 10,375 weapons and $103.7 million in assets were seized in 2021, according to DEA statistics,

In Hawai’i, 5,762 plants and 4,589 pounds of processed marijuana were eradicated. Only one individual was arrested.

The program has led to the discovery and eradication of numerous marijuana grows in Kaua’i, including the Kalalau Valley, Koke’e, Koloa, Lihue, Kilauea, Kapa’a and Wailua.

Is marijuana still a priority?

Wailua resident Valerie Weiss voiced her opposition to the program in written testimony Wednesday.

“Haven’t we all heard enough helicopters flying low over our neighborhoods and trails in search of marijuana crops?” Weiss asked. “The $35,000 can and should be put to better use. Marijuana is not heroin, it is not fentanyl – just stop this useless program.

The KPD said in a statement that “although periodic marijuana eradication missions are conducted by the KPD, this does not impede our ability to handle other drug-related investigations.”

The department also reported that the diversion of water and the use of chemicals on marijuana cultivation in remote locations such as Koke’e and the Kalalau Valley can have adverse consequences for native plants and l surrounding ecosystem.

Marijuana-related crimes were deprioritized under former Kaua’i prosecutor Justin Kollar, who refused to prosecute most marijuana-related crimes.

His successor, Rebecca Like, who was elected to the post in February in a special election, largely continued this trend.

“We review each case on a case-by-case basis,” Like said in a statement. “While our Office will continue to minimize prosecutions for marijuana offenses, that doesn’t mean there aren’t cases involving marijuana that we will pursue.”

As said they would likely pursue a case where an individual was operating under the influence of THC or marijuana or in possession of a large amount of the drug.

Maui and Honolulu also use the “Green Harvest” program, although the island of Hawaii does not. In 2008, their council voted not to accept federal funds citing complaints from residents about low-flying helicopter missions.

A 2019 bill passed by the state legislature says people who possess three grams or less of marijuana are not risking incarceration, although they could face a $130 fine.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Hawai’i since 2000, and a bill on the table this session would have allowed people 65 and older to automatically qualify for medical use, thereby legalizing recreational cannabis for seniors.

The bill passed the Senate Health Committee but did not progress further.

Many states have completely removed restrictions on cannabis – eighteen states, as well as Guam and Washington DC have legalized recreational marijuana use.

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