By Kelly Moran

Crazy Tobacco

          Folks here call it pakalolo – “paka” being the Hawaiian rendering of “tobacco,” and “lolo” meaning crazy.  And “crazy tobacco” is front-page news here because what it is . . . is marijuana.

          It should not surprise anyone that a lot of pakalolo is grown and consumed in our tropical climate.  Hawaii was also among the earliest states to allow the medical use of marijuana; and is the only state, so far, to have enacted such a law through the legislative process, instead of by referendum.

A discreet backyard greenhouse with four pakalolo plants.
A discreet backyard greenhouse with four pakalolo plants.

          But the Legislature did not create a legal framework for cultivation or distribution; and counties alone can not change state or federal law.  Still, in the 2008 election, 35,682 Hawaii County voters approved a ballot initiative that directed Big Island police to make the enforcement of state and federal marijuana laws their lowest priority; and it set the threshold for regarding possession as a serious infraction at 24 plants and/or 24 dry ounces of pot.

          The outcome certainly surprised the initiative’s 25,937 opponents, and may have amazed even its proponents.

          Where did all those supporters come from?  There were no exit-polls, but only a handful could have had medical marijuana certificates.  (Approximately 1,500 Big Island residents are registered patients.)  Surely some of the rest were recreational users, but no one is claiming that there are more than 30,000 pot-smokers living here.  Most of the voters in that majority, therefore, were everyday folks who are fundamentally generous in spirit, and concerned enough about solving local problems to feel that law-enforcement resources would be better expended on more serious crimes, such as those against people and property, and on combating more pernicious drugs, chiefly methamphetamine, which is locally called “ice.”

          Here on the Big Island, regardless of party affiliations, there is widespread sympathy for countercultural and/or Libertarian ideals, especially about conservation, self-sufficiency, and privacy.  The voters who approved this resolution clearly regarded pot as harmless or, at worst, a benign indulgence; and certainly not as a “gateway” drug to addiction or as a threat to “family values.”  It was a state Representative from the Big Island (Faye Hanohano) who in 2009 introduced a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession.   Not surprisingly, it was voted down.  But some such bill – or at least, one that enables cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana – will surely be introduced every year from now on, and will inevitably pass.

          In the late 1930s, just after marijuana was made illegal, a couple of scary movies were released, that painted pot-smokers as brainless dope-fiends, and the drug itself as capable of turning strait-laced teenagers into crazed killers.  Such movies have, ever since, been justifiably ridiculed.  So, while it may not be symbolic of anything, this weekend and next, at the East Hawaii Cultural Center in Hilo, UH-Hilo drama students are staging the recent pop-musical version of the most famous of those cautionary movies.  They are putting on “Reefer Madness.”

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