HILO, Hawaii (AP) – 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 Denver, Seattle and Eureka Springs, Ark., as well as the California cities of Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Oakland.

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.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency said passage of the initiative won’t change its approach to the enforcement of federal law.

“In a nutshell, we’re going to continue to enforce the drug laws, which includes marijuana,” said Tony Williams, DEA assistant special agent in charge, speaking from Honolulu. He said the focus will remain on those who cultivate marijuana and distribute narcotics.

The measure was pushed by the group Project Peaceful Sky, whose director, Adam Lehmann, said it doesn’t decriminalize marijuana.

“It’s only for adult personal use on private property,” he said.

Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Jay Kimura called the initiative unenforceable, but said he would consult with the state attorney general to see what could be done to implement it.


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