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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Political prize: 'ice' attack

By David Shapiro

The Lingle administration and the Democratic Legislature are drawing skepticism for racing on separate tracks to control the agenda for solving Hawai'i's crushing problem of crystal methamphetamine addiction.

The House and Senate formed a special joint committee to draft an "ice" attack plan before the January legislative session, and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona is leading an administrative task force to do essentially the same thing.

But we shouldn't be so fast to slam them for seeming to work at cross-purposes. Hawai'i has been a one-party state for so long that we've forgotten how a new era of old-fashioned political competition can serve the public interest.

The demand for action against the crystal meth epidemic rose from the grass-roots.

Concerned citizens in several communities grew tired of soaring crime, young lives destroyed by ice addiction and families torn apart. They took to the streets, and politicians took notice.

In past years, one party — the Democrats — would have decided if the drug problem needed attention, what was to be done and with what urgency. Solutions could drag over several legislative sessions — if they came at all.

But with Republican Linda Lingle's election as governor, there's real competition between the two parties for the first time in 40 years. This brings a built-in urgency for each party to get there first with the best solutions.

Ultimately, they'll be expected to work together in the best public interest and mesh their ideas on controlling ice. But for now, competition is welcome. The harder each party works to outdo the other with superior ideas, the better the choices we'll have when it comes time to draft legislation and enact administrative policies.

What we can't have is a repeat of the posturing we saw on education reform in the last Legislature, when lawmakers refused to consider Lingle's proposal for locally elected school boards, Lingle vetoed the Legislature's plan for local administrative school complexes, and we ended up where we started — nowhere.

With election-year fanfare, political stakes will be high to show progress in battling crystal meth. Neither side will want to face voters empty-handed, almost assuring a productive compromise.

This multidimensional problem requires solutions that include better prevention, earlier detection of addiction, more effective and accessible treatment, and criminal laws and correctional policies that both protect the public and attack the underlying problem of drug addiction.

Ice is relatively cheap to make and easy to distribute. Authorities estimate there are 30,000 hard-core users in Hawai'i who spend an average of $170 a day on their addiction, often raised from property crimes.

Drug-related crime clogs our courts and prisons. Honolulu leads the nation in the number of arrested males testing positively for crystal meth — nearly 45 percent in 2002. Police say ice addiction might touch 75 percent of local crime.

Addiction crosses generational lines and is a leading cause of domestic violence and child abuse. We've seen people who seemed to have it all — powerful public officials, prominent attorneys, popular entertainers — land in prison for ice-related offenses.

Jason Perry, the drug dealer recently convicted of two brutal murders, was the star pitcher on my son's Little League team. He was a nice kid from a good family, and the mind can't comprehend how he got from there to here.

The only thing for sure is that it was a road paved with ice.

If the governor and Legislature can break this cycle of destruction that poisons our society, they'll deserve all the credit we can heap upon them.

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net.