By JOHN BURNETT
By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hawaiians are more likely than any other race to be arrested on marijuana charges.
Between Nov. 4, 2008, and April 30, 2012, of the 1,465 adults arrested on various marijuana charges, 373 were Hawaiians, accounting for 25.4 percent of total arrests. Those statistics were provided by police to the county council under provisions of county ordinance 08-181, a law passed by voter initiative making adult use of marijuana on private property the “lowest law enforcement priority.”
At 8.5 percent of the Big Island’s population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hawaiians have the highest marijuana arrest rate, almost three times their population.
The most arrested racial group is Caucasians, with 670 arrests, or 45.7 percent of of total arrests. According to 2010 U.S. Census figures, Caucasians make up 33.7 percent of the population.
Wolf Daniel Braun, a marijuana activist and the former president of Peaceful Sky Alliance, the now-disbanded group that wrote the voter-backed initiative ruled “unenforceable” by Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura last November, said he believes the numbers could indicate “racial profiling.”
“There’s racial prejudice everywhere in this world,” he said.
Police Detective Paul Fukuda of the Hilo Vice Section, who has a lead role in marijuana enforcement, said he doesn’t know why Caucasians and Hawaiians account for more than 70 percent of marijuana arrests.
“That’s a study that needs to be done, on upbringing or whatever,” he said. “… As far as marijuana eradication or doing the warrants, we don’t target certain races. It just so happens and I have no reason for why that is.”
Arrests on the Big Island for commercial promotion of marijuana of declined sharply in late 2011 and early 2012, while arrests for possession of less than an ounce of pot have remained relatively steady since county voters made adult personal use of marijuana on private property “the lowest law enforcement priority.”
According to the most recent semi-annual report, filed May 30 with County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, there were 22 arrests for commercial promotion of marijuana between Nov. 1, 2011, and April 30, 2012. That’s down from 72 for the previous six months, and the fewest arrests for commercial promotion in a six-month period since county voters since the so-called “Peaceful Sky Initiative” was passed on Nov. 4, 2008.
Fukuda pointed to three reasons for the dramatic drop in commercial promotion arrests in the last reporting period.
“One is the season,” he said. “You have the long season in the summer where people who still grow outdoors, that’s the ones we spot. In the winter season, you don’t have as much marijuana cultivated outdoors, so our marijuana arrests are not as many (for commercial promotion). The second reason is funding. Because we’re down on funding, we can’t get the airtime to fly. So basically, what it is, we’re depending on other sources, which would be confidential informants and complaints from the public that we would investigate. The third reason is that there are a lot more indoor grows. That again would fall under confidential informants and information received from the public.”
There were 198 cases of third-degree promotion of a detrimental drug, possession of less than an ounce marijuana, during the last six-month reporting period. In the seven reporting periods since the law took effect, there have been 1,374 cases of simple possession, a petty misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail, out of 2,075 total cases. That’s an average of 392.6 simple possession cases a year.
“It would seem to me logical to think that if arrests for commercial promotion is trending down, arrests for simple possession would be down, as well,” said Braun. “I don’t think the people who have been busted for commercial promotion have gone out of business. There’s still plenty of weed to be bought on the island on the black market, so somebody must be growing it and somebody must be selling it. It doesn’t sound like they’re going after the big producers, they’re going after the simple possession guys. Which is wrong.
“Has 40 years of this war on cannabis made it more difficult to get? Has it made it less effective when you do get it? Cannabis is as strong or stronger than it’s ever been and it’s easily available. … Now why is that so, after so many years and so many dollars of drug money?”
Police agree that marijuana growers haven’t gone out of business. Noting that county law no longer allows local police to accept federal eradication funds, Assistant Chief Marshall Kanehailua said missions, now flown by the state Narcotics Enforcement Division, are more infrequent now.
“You still have the commercial promoters,” he said. “We just don’t get them because we don’t have the operations like we’ve had in the past.”
Police disagreed with Braun’s conclusion that they’re going after users instead of commercial growers and said that many are charged with possession after being arrested for another offense.
“You go arrest someone for theft and they have a joint on them. It’s not like we’re targeting the marijuana smoker. … It’s all related to initial crimes,” Kanehailua said. He said that many simple possession arrests happen as a result of traffic stops.
Added Fukuda: “We’re still pursuing other drug investigations and we notice that when we arrest somebody for ice, they also have marijuana on them.” He said that for methamphetamine users, smoking marijuana takes an edge off their high.
Kanehailua said he believes when there are fewer arrests of marijuana growers, then arrests for small-scale possession are likely to increase.
“If you have less commercial promotion arrests or large-scale growing operations taken down, that’s all going out on the street. … That was always law enforcement’s view of arrests for commercial promotion, that we’re taking away the bulk before it’s going onto the street,” he said.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.