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Councilwoman says she’s against the program because police are using violence in drug raids

By Hempology | March 26, 2008

Sat, 22 Mar 2008
West Hawaii Today (HI)
Jim Quirk


HILO — Should Hawaii County refuse to accept a $282,000 federal Drug Enforcement Administration grant for the island’s marijuana eradication program, there is a possibility federal authorities will initiate their own eradication program, a DEA official said Friday.

Garrison Courtney, a DEA official in Washington, D.C., said his agency typically tries to respect the efforts of local jurisdictions in controlling illegal drugs like marijuana.

“There’s a possibility” the DEA would initiate its own marijuana eradication program on the Big Island if the local Police Department was unable to control the problem and if it were discovered harvested crops were being shipped to the mainland, he said.

If the DEA feels there is a trafficking problem, “then yes, we’re most likely going to step in to relieve the trafficking,” Courtney said.

Police Chief Lawrence Mahuna expressed concerns this week regarding the possibility of the County Council voting against accepting the grant money.  The Police Department has little funding from previous grants remaining for the eradication program, which has been operating on a minimal basis in recent months.

The latest DEA grant available is sorely needed to continue the program, Mahuna said, and he believes the program will eventually be taken over by the DEA if the council refuses the money.

Mahuna also said he is concerned that, should the council decide to not accept the grant, the DEA would be able to operate the program outside of the parameters established by the council.  For instance, the council has control over how low to the ground police helicopters can fly when searching for marijuana crops.

Courtney said if the DEA initiated an eradication program on the island, it would attempt to respect laws of the local government, but the bottom line is the agency operates under federal regulations, not laws established by local governments.

Council members who were asked Thursday on how they plan to vote on the grant issue were all over the board: some are on the fence, some favor the program and others are against it.

Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole said she’s against the program because she’s heard too many stories from constituents about police using violence in drug raids.

Courtney, however, said DEA officials also have to resort to violence sometimes when making busts.

Drug dealers and people responsible for growing illegal marijuana crops are “not going to greet you with a smile and a handshake,” he said.

“The unfortunate part about drug enforcement is the violence,” Courtney said.

When law enforcement authorities show up at a home of a person responsible for growing large quantities of marijuana, because there’s usually a lot of cash at stake and the notion the person will end up in jail for a long time, “there’s going to be violence,” he said.

The council’s Finance Committee is slated to discuss the grant during an April 8 meeting, and the full council is expected to vote on it during a subsequent meeting.

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