HILO, Hawaii — Hawaii County police and federal authorities say they will continue enforcing marijuana laws on the Big Island despite the passage of a ballot initiative making it the lowest priority for law enforcement.
Voters approved the measure 34,957 to 25,464 in Tuesday’s election. It was one of several victories for advocates of less punitive marijuana penalties. Massachusetts became the 13th state to decriminalize the herb; Michigan became the 13th state to legalize medical marijuana, and Fayetteville, Ark., also passed a resolution making marijuana the college town’s lowest law enforcement priority.
Other cities that have previously passed “lowest priority” initiatives in recent years include Seattle, Denver and Eureka Springs, Ark., as well as the California cities of Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Oakland. In San Francisco and West Hollywood, similar measures were passed by elected officials.
But Hawaii County Police Chief Lawrence Mahuna said the measure is a resolution, not a law, and added, “there will be no change how we prioritize the enforcement of marijuana. The resolution does not invalidate federal law. It doesn’t legalize marijuana. It’s still a Schedule 1 controlled substance, he said.
“We will continue in our efforts to reduce the availability of illegal marijuana,” he said.
County Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida disagreed with Mahuna’s assertion that the approved measure isn’t a law.
The County Charter states an initiative approved by voters becomes a county ordinance, or law.
Ashida said that under the new law, the County Council can’t accept funds for marijuana eradication programs, and the county clerk must send an annual letter to state and federal elected officials requesting that “government remove criminal penalties for the cultivation, possession and use of cannabis for adult personal use.”