Substance abuse is not an isolated occurance that is limited to certain parts of society; it is a hazard to everyone, everywhere, that needs to be acknowledged and actively resisted. Even on the remote Hawaiian island of Molokai, perched on a volcanic seamount in the distant reaches of the Pacific Ocean, the abuse of illegal substances poses a grave threat to families, schools, and a traditional way of life. While the use of 'pacalolo' (Hawaiian for 'grass') may be viewed by some as a relatively benign habit, it is difficult to differentiate between relatively harmless drugs and those that are capable of doing great damage to both individuals and the areas in which they live. Molokai is viewed by many as an 'old timey' paradise, but here is a glimpse into the black and rotten heart of that island's worst nightmare (methamphetamine abuse). [Note: photo of 'Jill' May courtesy of Brant Ward, SF Chronicle newspaper]
Ice Ain't Cool Nohow
Substance abuse (‘drug abuse’ in common slang) is bad. It’s bad for an individual, bad for the family, and bad for the entire community. In fact there are no ‘good’ things about abuse of substances, whether illegal (meth, crank, crack, ice, heroin, etc) or legal (prescription drugs, tobacco, alcohol, etc.).
Contrary to what many youths (and immature adults) think, substance abuse of any kind is about as far from being ‘cool’, hip, or desirable as anything can be. In reality, use or abuse of substances actually marks the user as a genuine loser, a person of poor self-esteem, and one with little social awareness beyond their own selfish need for quick gratification. What is especially sad about substance abuse is that it almost always starts out as a casual ‘experiment’, but invariably progresses to a full-blown state of complete addiction and full dependency. Sadder still is the fact that the darker, more deadly effects of substance abuse are not apparent until well after drugs have become a permanent part of one’s life. The impact of chronic substance abuse on health is severe and premature death by either disease or one of the other deadly side-effects is almost guaranteed. To say that substance abuse is a cruel monster that eats people alive is perhaps a colorfully allegorical statement that strains the imagination, but the grim reality is undeniable: it is a very real monster and it wholly consumes not just individuals but entire communities.
People who regularly abuse drugs lose (among many other things) their ability to understand that all people share this world together...that like it or not we must all care for one another and maintain respect and regard for one another if we are all to survive.
Last year an incident occurred on the mainland that sadly demonstrates how cruel life can be when one exists within the frequently violent and ever destructive world of substance abuse. In January (2007), a homeless, drug-addicted 49 year old woman was set upon in an argument over a boyfriend’s loan of a hundred dollars, kidnapped, and taken to a nearby sports stadium where her two female assailants doused her with gasoline and set her afire. She died, it goes without saying, a most horrible death at the hands of two other drug-addicted women
Leslie “Jill” May, the victim, began life as an abused child. At the age of sixteen, after having been raped and impregnated by her substance-abusing father, she ran away to San Francisco in 1976. Possessed of intelligence, a sparkling personality, and the exceptional good looks of a runway model, she was able to make a living as a high-class prostitute for a number of years. Until, that is, she started doing cocaine and eventually became hopelessly addicted to crack, crank, and other street drugs. Over the years, as result, she lost her teeth, her beauty, her health, and eventually sank into the homeless despair of a chronic street person. By 2006, 30 years after her arrival in the San Francisco Bay Area, she was singled out by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s ‘substance abuse outreach team’ to be included in a small number of special focus ‘hardcore’ street addicts who would receive exceptional assistance to help them break out of their hopeless condition.
As a result of this good fortune, she had just received permanent housing and was starting to respond to aggressive treatment in a promising manner, according to those who worked with her. Then the argument occurred with two other women over a small amount of money owed by her boyfriend to one of them for some drugs.
As a relatively small, delicate individual—the result of her 30 years of suffering from substance abuse—she was easily grabbed and taken behind a dumpster, where she was stripped of her clothing and severely beaten by her two female assailants, who then left her for dead. Having barely survived the violent attack, she was able to report the assault to police via a friend, and the next day her two assailants returned, abducted her, and took her to city’s remote football stadium parking lot. Pulling out two cans of gasoline from the trunk of the car, they poured the contents over her and ignited the fuel with a flicked cigarette.
The two woman who burned Jill May alive in such a horrible manner were fortunately apprehended and now face trial, but any such legal proceedings will of course do the victim no good at all, in the wake of her brutal murder.
I mention this incident here because it is a fairly good (and especially heart-breaking) example of the extremes of behavior that routinely arise consequent with the abuse of substances. The island of Molokai is fortunate to have been spared such especially tragic incidents as this, but don’t think for a minute that this could not happen in Hawaii or anywhere that illegal substances are being sold for private use. Hopefully it can serve as a graphic reminder of the sort of excessive gratuitous violence that is commonly characterises the drug trade. The less graphically shocking effects of drug use (break-ups in the home, disruption of family life, serious health problems, community problems, etc.) are far more common, but no less impactful on the lives of those who live with or interact with substance abusers, of course.
To say, therefore, that substance abuse is bad is more than just the inane repeating of hollow sounding phrase. Drug abuse is a reality that can easily kill you, or others around you, and that...as this example disturbingly illustrates...all too often does.
Think to reflect for a moment, if you will, that this unfortunate 49 year old woman, Leslie May, was once herself someone’s beloved young keiki. She was once a potentially wonderful, valuable person who had hopes, dreams, and who was a mother herself. Now her life is simply another senseless tragic statistic that could have been prevented if more people had taken more seriously the threat that substance abuse poses to otherwise good people and their communities. Molokai may still root out this evil before such extreme events occur here, but it will not be easy, and it will take cooperative determination; above all, it will take a common commitment by everyone on Molokai to get drugs off the island!
On Molokai, substance abuse has become one of the chief concerns that affect all on the island equally (even more so than the ever present concern over development and economic exploitation). Often starting off as something undertaken in school because of a hesitation to be thought of by one’s group as uncool, drug experimentation and addictive use invariably has seemingly trivial beginnings. The good news is that due to both local anti-drug sentiment and MauiCounty efforts to educate and inform, some inroads are being made, although progress is slow and fraught with constant difficulties. The Hale Ho'okupa'a in Kaunakakai (808) 553-3231 provides outpatient treatment when it is either actively sought, or mandated by local law enforcement sanctions (courts), but the greatest problem seems to lie in getting families to come forward to openly seek assistance in dealing with members of the extended ‘ohana. A few of the current community events aimed at substance abuse are below.
Sept. 4 Molokai – Hands Across the State – () at KaunakakaiBaptistChurch. Join hands for a one-minute moment of silence to show respect to recovery and those who are still suffering from addiction. Event also will include a jam session and cookout. For details call Frank at (808) 553-3675.
Sept. 12 – 16 Molokai – Drug Prevention Week – The Molokai Youth Center is sponsoring a week of activities aimed at keeping youth off drugs and away from alcohol. For details contact Frank at (808) 553-3675.
Sept. 15 MauiCounty Proclamation – () Mayor Alan Arakawa will present and sign a Recovery Month proclamation in Wailuku at the Mayor’s Lounge.
Sept. 26Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner With Your Children is a national event promoting parental engagement as a simple, effective way to reduce substance abuse by children and teens and raise healthier children. For details on Family Day, call (808) 956-4132 or visit www.casafamilyday.org.
Despite being of some help in fighting off the plague that is substance abuse (particularly ‘ice’ or methamphetamine variants) on the island, Molokai has a bigger problem in some respects than the other islands. This is due to the strongly intermixed nature of the island’s population. So many Molokaiians are related to each other through intermarriage that one cannot consider a drug user’s circumstances without also considering a familial relationship to the individual in the same context. Understandably, this ‘blood tie’ association further complicates the matter of getting the community solidly behind anti-drug efforts, since the neighbor whose house is known to be a focal hangout for substance use or distribution is very likely a close cousin, uncle, or aunt (at least).
Although ‘ice’ is the worst and most dangerous form of local drug abuse, marihuana poses a threat almost as serious. Just this past week Molokai police confiscated almost 500 marijuana plants that were being cultivated in a private property in Ho`olehua. Ho’olehua resident U`i Cabanting called the police after her husband discovered the plants in their 40-acre property. The discovery occurred after the family dogs began to give indications that something was odd and unusual.
On Tuesday morning, August 7 2007, the Cabanting dogs Keawe and Max began barking oddly. “They have a different bark when there’s something that doesn’t belong in the yard,” Roland Cabanting said. ‘Bob’, the family billy-goat, also stood in the field with all the hair on his back erect; from appearances, something was definitely wrong. Trying to figure out exactly what, Cabanting took Max for a walk in his property.
A short time later and to the dismay of this Hawaiian retired U.S. marine, they stumbled across several hundred marijuana plants spread in three locations on the property. Mulberry trees provided cover for the illegal plants. Sticks made out of tree branches propped up parts of the trees, making a dome-like structure that helped hide the planets from the air.
In one area there were about 400 plants placed in black plastic bags, each containing 5-6 young plants. Another spot had only a few plants, ready to harvest. In a third spot, Cabanting found about 60 plants placed in individual plastic bags. “It was what they called ratoon crops,” Cabanting said. “Those plants had already been harvested once”, he said.
Ratoon crops are harvested from a plant the first time by breaking the main stem. Two stems then grow on the sides of the broken stem, yielding twice the amount of pot in the next harvest. These plants were ready for a second harvest. “There was nothing but buds,” Cabanting said.
Cabanting’s wife, U`i, immediately called the MauiCounty sheriffs (since Molokai is part of MauiCounty). Four hours later the sheriffs showed up. They drove their SUV to the grow area pointed out by Cabanting and confiscated all the plants found.
U`i showed some fresh horse prints on the trails leading to where pot plants were found. “We don’t have a horse,” she said. Marijuana plants need water, and there are no available water sources in the property. Horses would be an ideal animal to help carry large water containers, according to U`i.
The following day, still livid about someone planting illegal crops on her land, U`i borrowed a horse and set out to explore the rest of her property. Under a mulberry tree, she found 16 more pot plants in individual plastic bags. Two large water containers rested alongside the plants. The perpetrators left behind several tools, including pickets, shovels and hand saws. Some of the shovels had actually been stolen from Cabanting.
Underneath a mulberry tree, a water-hose came from underground, and was wrapped around the tree trunk. There were no marijuana plants under that tree. The buried end of the hose pointed to an adjacent property.
Cabanting was perplexed with the cleverness of the perpetrators who were operating right under his nose. He said there were trails leading to adjacent properties, west and east of his land. “This is not deer trail now,” he said, pointing to unusually wide trails through the grass. “When it’s this wide, it is human trail.”
“Nobody has ever done this to us,” Cabanting said. He was concerned about his property. “We can lose this,” he said, with a pained look. “We can lose the whole 40 acres.”
“My wife and I don’t do drugs,” Cabanting protested. He and his wife were (understandably) outraged over the fact that someone (likely a close neighbor) chose his property to plant with marijuana. The Cabantings have two young children living with them who are taking classes in Molokai public schools and they are well aware of how difficult it is to keep their children from casually picking up bad habits and attitudes brought to those schools by children from families that are not as conscionable.
Federal conviction for trafficking 100 or more marijuana plants is punishable with 5-40 years in prison, plus up to $2 million in fines, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Under HawaiiState law, cultivation of 25 plants is a felony, and cultivation of 100 or more plants is punishable with 20 years in jail plus a $50,000.00 fine. All those charges are for first offense, and could double with a second offense. After an investigation was concluded, Maui County Sheriffs said that regrettably there were not enough leads to pursue an indictment in this particular instance. Like so many other similar incidents on the tiny island, fighting the problem effectively is one series of frustrations after another.
The threat to Molokai by substance abuse (and particularly from methamphetamine, or ‘Ice’) is very, very real and although I personally have always had a fairly relaxed attitude about limited personal use of marijuana (being an old Berkeley left-wing radical), what makes substance abuse of any magnitude so terribly dangerous (disregarding for the moment the extreme and devastating threat to families and the community) is the organized illegality behind these operations that may and often does result in violence.
My own personal take on the matter of substance abuse is complicated. I favor decriminalization of personal use of marijuana in small quantities, but one cannot easily or convincingly adopt a selective approach when it comes to considering the question of ‘recreational’ drug use. It is a well-proven fact that it is ultimately impossible to legislate morality; perhaps the best example of that was the ‘Prohibition’ era of the 1930s. While marijuana has recently been shown to have more harmful effects in the long term than otherwise first realized, its liabilities are relatively small and almost inconsequential from a strictly physiological stance. Compared to all the other drugs out there (emphasis on ‘comparatively’), the health impact of ‘pacalolo’ use is almost benign. However, it is a proven dynamic that most individuals cannot control their consumption of ‘recreational’ drugs effectively, nor their desire to increase the strength of the dopamine release that is always a component of the user habit. The harder drugs are far more devastating (as has been seen with the near pandemic use of the methamphetamine variant drugs that today constitute the most dire threat to be found in the entire United States).
In an absolute sense, and as a life-long ‘left-of-center’ individual, I have always felt that the Nederlands has long had the right idea. Outlawing something totally has never, ever resulted in an acceptably functional and socially effective solution for prevention of patently harmful anti-social behavior (as America’s ‘Prohibition Era’ so splendidly demonstrated). What is needed is recognition of substance abuse as something that while not socially positive, may be better dealt with by a lawful, regulated approach that would then bring the issue out of the closet as an illicit act and enable governmental and regional control of ‘recreational’ drug distribution to occur through direct participation by authorities. While this would not adequately address all the many harmful social and community effects of drug use, it would at least partially eliminate or substantially help control the inherently dangerous ‘illegality’ aspect of the drug world. It would be, in my opinion, far better than the present and highly stupid ‘Ostrich’ response (head in the sand) that America presently steadfastly maintains towards illicit drug use.
Once something has been brought out of the covert depths of illegal social behavior and legitimized, it is more readily and more easily dealt with. History has shown us that to be true time after time in the past. Still, even the legalization (or selective legalization) of harmful drug use is not a complete solution to the many complex social issues that today arise from abuse of substances by individuals.
With the widespread use of far more dangerous illegal drugs than marijuana on the increase around the world, it helps to understand that there are profound psychosocial and economic dynamics at work, pushing individuals (and in some cases whole nations) towards drug abuse that must also be recognized, isolated, and addressed. In today’s highly diverse cultural milieu, many conventional solutions to this serious concern are neither simple nor effective. Molokai certainly has its share of economic factors that contribute to the spread of the drug culture, but when one considers that other kinds of ‘legal’ addictive behavior (use of prescribed drugs, cigarette smoking, and consumption of alcohol) are in fact actually promoted and subsidized by commercial corporations, any possible hope of a simple and effective solution would seem quite remote for the foreseeable future.
In the end, at least as far as Molokai is concerned, the eventual solution shall have to come from within the ancient roots of ancient Hawaiian society: recognition of substance abuse as an unacceptable destructive force that further disintegrates the ancient sense of communal welfare symbolized in the ‘ohana concept of collective responsibility for stewardship of the land and the best interests of the people.
Note: Parts of this were taken from several news items originally appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle and The Molokai Dispatch.