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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 24, 2010

Big Isle pot measure goes up in smoke

By Jason Armstrong
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

The Hawaii County Council talked drugs and money Friday, but decided to lobby the state Legislature only for the latter.
A nonbinding resolution urging state lawmakers to decriminalize the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana was rejected by a 5-2 vote, with two members absent.

Council members also voted 7-0 to urge the Legislature and Gov. Linda Lingle to support continuing to give Hawaii's four counties their current share of the state's hotel room-tax revenues.

"I don't want to be the leader in marijuana," Ka'u Guy Enriques said in opposing the pot proposal from North Kona Councilman Kelly Greenwell.

Enriques said one reason he ran for his council seat in 2008 was that he was upset that lawmakers had endorsed making marijuana use by adults the Police Department's lowest law enforcement priority.

"I don't think any of us would want to go to a doctor who's high on marijuana and have him make a decision," Enriques added.

The measure drew support only from Greenwell and Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole-Beason.

Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi and South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford were absent when the vote was taken.

The two also missed voting on a nonbinding resolution urging the Legislature and Lingle to "work with the counties to ensure we continue to receive our fair share of the TAT (transient accommodations tax) revenues."

Hawaii County, like its three counterparts, is once again at risk of losing its roughly $18.5 million annual share of the tax collected when residents and visitors pay for hotel rooms. The state wants to keep the TAT funds, which make up Hawaii County's second-largest revenue source behind property taxes, to help close a $1.2 billion budget shortfall.

Lingle and several state lawmakers, including some who represent parts of Hawaii Island, have expressed support for withholding at least a portion of the tax revenues.

Hawaii County's share is 8.3 percent of the total collections.

The council's request will now be sent to state lawmakers and Lingle.