HILO — Defying Councilman Kelly Greenwell’s threat to resign, a County Council committee last night voted against a resolution asking the state Legislature to decriminalize marijuana.
Greenwell’s nonbinding resolution doesn’t decriminalize marijuana, because the drug is regulated by state and federal laws. But he hopes an affirmative vote by the council will put pressure on the state Legislature to ease regulation of the drug.
The resolution now moves to the full council with a negative recommendation. Only Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole-Beason joined Greenwell in dissenting from the 7-2 vote.
“If anybody can give me a reason why marijuana is bad, then I might think twice about what I’m doing,” Greenwell told the Tribune-Herald on Dec. 13.
Last night, he got his wish. The first 20 people who spoke all opposed the North Kona councilman’s resolution, warning that the council would send a terrible message to the youth of the island by approving it.
“Marijuana is illegal, harmful, addictive, damaging, and it is a destructive force in our community,” said Prosecuting Attorney Jay Kimura.
He was backed by a group of red-shirted schoolchildren. Testifying from Kona, members of the Youth Crime Watch of Kealakehe urged the lawmakers to set good examples for them.
The president of the club, sixth-grader Dylan Watai, called “hogwash” Greenwell’s assertion that “marijuana in a free society would probably be considered most compatible with healthy social activity.”
“Marijuana is not compatible with healthy social activity,” said Lisa Faulkner-Inouye. “Marijuana and high underage drinking are linked to higher dropout rates.”
Those who testified in favor of the resolution comprised most of the late testimony. The last 19 were all in support. Some argued that moderation in marijuana usage is acceptable.
“Cannabis is not something that our law enforcement should be spending our time and resources on,” said Tyson Black. He said the federal government is ignoring “what’s really killing people” — food additives.
Others used broader philosophical arguments against the “prison-industrial complex” and the failed war on drugs.
“Decriminalization would be better than arresting people for marijuana,” said Barbara Lang. “The war on marijuana continues to do great harm and continues to do so.”
The final tally of testifiers showed that opinion was evenly split. Twenty-four spoke in favor and 24 spoke against, in 2 hours, 15 minutes of testimony.
Greenwell, in his first opportunity to speak, lashed out against those who opposed his measure and threatened to resign from the council if his colleagues voted against it.
“I’ve heard some of the most ridiculous logic,” he said, and called out Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Rick Damerville for his testimony. As Damerville rose in response, Guy Enriques, chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Intergovernmental Relations, admonished him for addressing a member of the audience.
Council members urged Greenwell not to resign.
“What we must do is respect the decisions that people take,” Enriques said. “I would ask you that you value all of our opinions as well.”
Councilman Dominic Yagong said he didn’t know if he was ready to see people smoking marijuana at a youth soccer game, or at a grocery store. He said a poll proposed by Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann was “something that needs to be done.”
After hearing from his colleagues, Greenwell apologized for getting worked up.
“I’m going to take back what I said about resigning from this council. And the reason,” he said, addressing supporters in the audience, “is because of you. I’m not going to be a Sarah Palin. The hell with them who don’t want to vote this way. I’m going to stick with you guys and we’re going to get this done.”
By Peter Sur