HILO — Federal cutbacks in the U.S. Department of Justice have caused the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to close its office and hangar at Hilo International Airport.
The DEA facilities were closed on Oct. 1, without the knowledge of local police. Hawaii County Police Department Maj. Randy Apele in the Vice Section said he was aware that the DEA had been considering removing its air operations for some time but he was unaware that the agency had left the island.
“We didn’t get any details,” he said.
DEA Special Agent Sarah Pullen, a media contact in the agency’s Los Angeles office, said last week that the “(t)he closure of the Hilo office was part of a DOJ mandate to reduce DEA’s footprint by closing some offices and saving money. All DOJ components had to identify some offices for closure.”
“With the closure of DEA’s enforcement office in Hilo … the Aviation Division, which principally supports DEA offices and investigations, closed down its aviation component there,” Pullen said. “The Aviation Division will continue to provide aviation support with resources from Honolulu (and) … will continue to conduct investigations and to assist local law enforcement throughout Hawaii using resources from our Honolulu District Office.”
Apele said the closing “doesn’t impact any of our operations.” HPD no longer conducts aerial marijuana enforcement operations on Hawaii Island, and Apele was not concerned with how the move might affect future HPD operations.
“They assist us at times, but we’ll be able to make adjustments,” he said.
The DEA website for its Los Angeles office still lists Hilo as a “post of duty” and lists a telephone number that is no longer in service. A Google search also indicates that the DEA has an office at 349 Kapiolani St., Hilo, the location of the Police Department. However, a source in the Police Department said that while office space is available for the DEA in both the Hilo and Kona offices of the department, no DEA agents have been assigned to the offices.
Meanwhile, a local medical marijuana activist bid good riddance to the agency.
“Joy, joy,” said Wolf Daniel Braun upon learning the news. Braun is former president of the Peaceful Sky Alliance, a now-disbanded marijuana advocacy group.
“The DEA has been no friend of mine,” Braun said, “or of the medical marijuana community.”
Hawaii Island residents with drug-related inquiries or needing information about the DEA should call the Honolulu office at 541-1930, said a DEA spokeswoman in Honolulu.