Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille backed away Thursday from a resolution in support of a state bill that would decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana, but not before getting some of the discussion she said she set out to hear.
“In my opinion, too often, local governments avoid controversial issues,” Wille said. “It’s my intent to bring forward this issue or others — controversial matters that are important to people on this island — so we can discuss them in an adult way.”
Wille’s resolution called for the council to express its support to state legislators for SB 472, which would make possessing less than an ounce of marijuana a civil offense with a $1,000 fine. Wille said she didn’t introduce the measure to call for legalizing marijuana use, rather, she wanted to hear the community’s input on what the proper punishment was for using and having marijuana, which the federal government classifies as a Schedule 1 substance, the most serious of controlled substances.
“Is it important to stop lumping marijuana with meth and heroin?” Wille asked. “For me, in the ’60s and ’70s, looking at marijuana, meth and heroin, it was one lump. Alcohol was OK. In that mind, I’m looking at, does moving this over to a civil fine somewhat separate those and recognize not that marijuana use is good, but how do we punish it and separate it out from something along the lines of meth or heroin, which are devastating in their addictiveness.”
Although marijuana-related measures often bring out dozens of testifiers, only a handful came out Thursday morning. A majority of the testifiers spoke out against the measure.
Emily Galaher, of Honokaa, told council members about her experiences in Colorado.
“(Marijuana) dispensaries are in absolutely every single corner in Boulder and Denver,” Galaher said. “I wish I was exaggerating, but I am not. Solicitation on the streets is huge, people handing out fliers. It’s in the faces of everyone on the streets.”
Inebriation from marijuana is mainstream in those cities, she said, while sobriety has become the counterculture. That’s not something she wants to see in Hawaii, she said.
Councilwoman Brenda Ford then quizzed Hawaii Police Department Kona Patrol Capt. Richard Sherlock and a mental health specialist on the societal and mental health impacts of drug use. Then, Ford suggested Wille draft a resolution to be sent to Congress urging federal officials to lower marijuana to a Schedule 3 substance.
“It’s not that I want to advocate for decriminalization or legalization for marijuana just out in the public,” Ford said. “As a country we do need to treat this differently.”
Following the discussion, Wille withdrew her resolution.
Ford raised questions earlier in the meeting on the possible impact 1250 Oceanside Partners’ bankruptcy filing earlier this month could have on the county’s ability to retain a mortgage on land worth $20 million. The county accepted the mortgage in lieu of cash as security for the unfinished Mamalahoa bypass. Ford said she was worried the county could lose that land because the mortgage was recorded less than 90 days before the bankruptcy filing.
Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida said after an executive session meeting two things are working in the county’s favor and should mean the property is not in jeopardy. First, the authority for bankruptcy trustees and judges to vacate transactions exists to help undo fraudulent land transfers.
Second, a federal judge first signed off on the transaction in December 2011, and 3rd Circuit Court Judge Ronald Ibarra approved it in March 2012.
“This wasn’t a last-ditch effort to stash assets somewhere,” Ashida said.
The council approved, with only Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi casting a dissenting vote, a resolution urging the state Legislature to approve HB 174, which would require growers to label any genetically engineered produce grown or imported into the state.