Prosecutor continues to de-emphasize marijuana prosecutions


LIHU‘E — A Kaua‘i Police Department “Green Harvest” cannabis suppression program is poised to continue this year.

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

“What we try to do is keep Kaua‘i honest. There’s a legal way with the dispensaries that went though all the regulations to be able to provide medical marijuana for people who need it,” said KPD Investigative Services Bureau Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce. “We conduct our operations looking at illegal grows throughout the island. Looking at public lands, state lands, every now and then we may see some in somebody’s yard.”

The funds will be used for overtime, renting vehicles and aircraft, trainings, and technology for a two-day operation that will cost a total of $50,000 — the other $15,000 of which comes from local funding.

The program began in 1979 in Hawai‘i and California, expanding to 25 states by 1982. In 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 discovery and eradication of many marijuana grows on Kaua‘i, including in Kalalau valley, Koke‘e, Koloa, Lihue, Kilauea, Kapa‘a and Wailua.

Is marijuana still a priority?

Wailua resident Valerie Weiss submitted opposition to the program in written testimony on Wednesday.

“Haven’t we all heard enough helicopters flying low over our neighborhoods and trails looking for marijuana cultivation?” asked Weiss. “The $35,000 can and should be put to much better use. Marijuana is not heroine, it is not fentanyl — just stop this unnecessary program.”

KPD said in a statement that “although periodic marijuana eradication missions are conducted by KPD, it does not hinder our ability in addressing other drug related investigations.”

The department also reported that the diversion of water and chemical use on marijuana grows in remote locations such as Koke‘e and Kalalau valley can have harmful consequences for native plants and the surrounding ecosystem.

Marijuana crimes were deprioritized under the regime of former Kaua’i Prosecutor Justin Kollar, who declined to prosecute most marijuana offenses.

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

“We examine each case on a case-by-case basis,” said Like in a statement. “Although our Office will continue to de-emphasize prosecution of marijuana offenses, it does not mean that there are no marijuana involved cases that we would prosecute.”

Like said that they would likely prosecute a case in which an individual was operating under the influence of THC or marijuana or possession of a large quantity of the drug.

Maui and Honolulu also utilize the “Green Harvest” program, though Hawai‘i Island does not. In 2008, their council voted to not accept federal funds citing complaints from residents about low-flying helicopter missions.

A bill passed in 2019 in the state Legislature says that individuals who possess three grams or less of marijuana do not face the possibility of incarceration, though they will 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, effectively legalizing recreational cannabis for the elderly.

The bill passed the Senate Committee on Health but failed to advance further.

Many states have done away with cannabis restrictions altogether — eighteen states, along with Guam and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana use.



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