I’ve written a lot of letters to the Maui News over the last ten years, of which I believe only three haven’t been printed. One trashed a candidate for the County Council days before an election, another addressed a poorly thought out grading permit on an unstable hillside. The last took the State to task for actions which inadvertently promote meth-amphetamine abuse, and reprinted below.

Pure Méthamphétamine Crystals (US DoJ, via Wikipedia)

Pure Méthamphétamine Crystals (US DoJ, via Wikipedia)

The somewhat sarcastic tone probably didn’t help, but the primary problem was that it was much too long, more the length of a Guest Opinion piece. However, the News only runs guest opinions from those who are recognized as having professional expertise on the topic. To ever to see print, it would need to be edited and submitted by the retired police officer and police commissioner whose thoughts on the subject I paraphrased:

Last September [2007], the Kihei Community Association hosted a presentation regarding what Batu (methamphetamine) is doing to the community, and how to identify the dealers. So far, so good, but does the State prefer the known Batu problem to the alternative? Let’s consider the evidence.

Getting Here: The vast majority of our methamphetamine is imported by couriers on scheduled flights from the mainland, or shipped by package delivery services. In 1996, the State Supreme Court’s interpretation of our search and seizure laws kicked the police out of the airports, off the cruise ship, and ferry gangways. No drug dogs sniff the suitcases
or passengers, nor the Fedex, DHL, or UPS packages.

Dealers: Once the product is on island, a considerable amount of coordination is needed to distribute it. Again, the State provides assistance via its wiretap process. When the police go to a State judge to authorize a wiretap, the judge appoints a criminal defense attorney to review a case file where only the suspect’s name is redacted. As the attorney starts calling the non-redacted names, the suspect’s guard goes up. Not infrequently, the suspect ends up defended by the same attorney, who has an easier case because of the fouled up wiretap. As a result, the State courts see few requests for them.

The Federal courts (and virtually all the other States) have a more rational wiretap review process, so most of the huge drug ring arrests in Hawaii are handled by Federal agencies. Periodically, the Feds are so overloaded with cases that they hand off some wiretap evidence to State and County district Attorneys. However, our D.A.s can’t use them, because the State courts consider such wiretaps tainted.

Addicted Thieves: Once the product addicts a new consumer, it’s usually not long until he or she has run through the family checking and savings account,lost their job, and is in need of additional income. This is where you and I contribute, as our cars, homes, and businesses are burglarized and shoplifted. Because of the volume of theft, the Maui PD is unable to do much more than file reports, with no followup. If a car is stolen, it’s only a Class C felony, and a (rarely imposed) maximum of five years in jail. Grand theft, automobile? It’s just a video game in Hawaii. If the thieves are under 18, the police just send the kids home, since holding juveniles overnight requires flying them to Oahu, a joy reserved only for particularly violent teen suspects.

If the meth consumer resorts to shoplifting, judges set a high bar for showing that there was an intent to steal. The police end up writing a series of “kickout tickets” to offenders who keep hitting the same store. The tickets have no teeth, because the judges consider them manini cases and throw them out. As a result, repeat offenders who are caught in the act are sometimes being dealt a beating by the staff out back, cutting the official justice system out of the loop.

In Court: Because of the volume of crime generated by Maui’s meth addicts, a few can’t help but end up facing criminal charges of some sort or another. Virtually all drug defendants end up in front of the Drug Court for starters. The Drug Court is a good idea hobbled by a poor implementation, as evidenced by 80% of the defendants falling off the wagon within a year. It’s possible the program is in even worse shape, if anecdotal evidence that case workers are falsifying some urine and blood test results are true and indicate a widespread practice.

Overwhelmed System: The State’s method for dealing with meth leans very heavily on education and treatment. Education *is* key, but how effective is “just say no” to something that is *so* cheap, addictive, and easy to buy? The treatment centers, the CPS, the Drug Court, the probation department,and many AA groups are overloaded with patients and cases, making it obvious that netting users after the party stopped being fun cannot by itself solve the problem.

What Is To Be Done? I believe the Legislature and the Judiciary need to realize that for education and treatment to have breathing room to work, Batu has to become hard to find. Being an island State with limited opportunities for local production makes interdiction a realistic option, without going medieval on our civil liberties. But, they have got to make the leap of faith and start – figuratively – cracking some heads. Otherwise, we should just give the feel good propaganda a rest, and admit the game is up.