Kohala group opposes pot farms there

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A group of property owners who want Kohala to be the island’s bread basket, not its medicine cabinet, have started a petition drive to keep medical marijuana farms out of their neighborhood.

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A group of property owners who want Kohala to be the island’s bread basket, not its medicine cabinet, have started a petition drive to keep medical marijuana farms out of their neighborhood.

“The new marijuana law just passed last month does not provide for the protection of our community. We want to make sure that our North Kohala community is protected from the 6,000 plants each licensee is allowed to grow,” said Lani Eugenio.

The opponents plan to attend the Action Committee meeting of the North Kohala Community Development Plan on Monday to make their wishes known. The meeting begins at 5 p.m. at the North Kohala Senior Center.

A handful of testifiers spoke on the issue at the County Council Planning Committee meeting Tuesday, where a revision of the county’s general plan was being discussed. They want the general plan to specify where such medical marijuana production centers can be located.

The state Legislature and Gov. David Ige opened the way for two licensees on the Big Island to each operate two production centers and dispensaries. The state Department of Health is required to provide for a selection process and criteria for license applicants by Jan. 4.

“We have been researching what happened in Colorado, Oregon and the Netherlands. Their problems are great,” Eugenio said. “We cannot afford to have this happen in our community and so we are preparing now because others are preparing to shove this down our throats. Our politicians have put us in this situation, and our politicians need to help us protect our community.”

Eugenio, who is the chairwoman of the CDP’s Agriculture Committee, said the goal of the CDP is for the area to produce 50 percent of the food it consumes. Eugenio, who said she is speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the CDP, worries that allowing lucrative marijuana fields will compete with the food supply.

Dispensaries and production centers will have to comply with county zoning regulations, and will not be allowed within 750 feet of a school, playground or public housing project or complex, under the new law.

They will also be required to provide both video surveillance and recording and physical security, and to take part in real-time computer monitoring of sales and inventory by the Health Department, as well as to comply with any request for production and sales records by law enforcement.

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who’s working in changes to the county’s general plan, said she’s hoping a mechanism could be set up for communities to opt out of the marijuana production plan. She said she’d take the lead on helping people understand the new law.

“Let’s figure it out,” Wille said. “If you do something like that, it does affect the community as a whole.”

A message left with county Planning Director Duane Kanuha was not returned by press time Thursday.

But Janice Okubo, a spokeswoman for the Health Department, said there will be community input into the process.

The interim administrative rules for medical marijuana dispensaries are currently being written by a work group consisting of three attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office and leadership from the Health Department’s licensing and planning offices, a deputy director and the health director, Okubo said in an email Thursday.

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Under Act 241, the Health Department is not required to hold public hearings on the interim rules, she said.

“However, a public hearing will be held when the permanent administrative rules are drafted,” she said, adding the department is rushing to meet a very tight deadline to have rules in place.

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