Pubdate: Fri, 27 Jul 2007
Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Copyright: 2007 Record Searchlight
Author: Paul Armentano
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Operation Alesia has come and gone, and judging by the public's 
divided reaction to this extravagant anti-pot campaign, it appears 
that many Northern Californians are unconvinced that America is 
winning the war on weed. They have sound reason to be skeptical.

Despite statistics indicating that Operation Alesia resulted in the 
elimination of some 280,000 illicit marijuana plants  more than all 
of the pot confiscated in Shasta County in 2006  does anyone really 
believe that this operation will tangibly reduce the demand or 
availability of marijuana in the local area?

It's time for a reality check. State and federal law enforcement 
personnel now arrest approximately 800,000 Americans annually and 
spend some $10 billion per year enforcing marijuana prohibition. 
Nevertheless, the U.S. government reports that domestic marijuana 
production has increased ten-fold in the past 25 years from 2.2 
million pounds to 22 million pounds. Is this the sign of a successful 
public policy?

According to a national report released last winter, nearly a third 
of America's domestic pot supply is grown in California, where 
marijuana ranks as the state's top cash crop. Does anyone really 
believe that Operation Alesia or future law enforcement campaigns 
will do anything to change this fact?

Let's be frank. The criminal prohibition of cannabis has had no 
discernible long-term impact on marijuana's availability or use, 
especially among young people. According to the latest survey data 
from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia 
University, a majority of teens now say that they can score pot more 
readily than they can tobacco or alcohol. More than one-third say 
that they can purchase weed in just a few hours. (By comparison, only 
14 percent of respondents say they can readily purchase alcohol.) 
Annual federal data compiled by the University of Michigan's 
Monitoring the Future project reports that an estimated 86 percent of 
12th graders say marijuana is "fairly easy" or "very easy" to get. 
This percentage is virtually unchanged since the mid-1970s  despite 
remarkably increased marijuana penalties, enforcement and arrests 
since that time.

It's time to end the dog-and-pony shows like Operation Alesia and 
acknowledge reality. The criminal classification of cannabis is 
disproportionate to the drug's relative harmlessness to the user and 
to the well-acknowledged harmfulness of other substances  
particularly alcohol and tobacco.

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 94 million 
Americans  40 percent of the U.S. population age 12 or older  have 
used cannabis during their lives, and relatively few have suffered 
deleterious health effects because of their use. Criminalizing these 
millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans is expensive, engenders 
disrespect for the law, and alienates large numbers of the population 
 particularly young people.

A wiser and long-overdue national policy would tax and regulate 
cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol  with the drug's sale and 
use restricted to specific markets and consumers. While such an 
alternative may not entirely eliminate the black market demand for 
pot, it would certainly be preferable to today's blanket, though 
thoroughly ineffective, expensive and impotent, criminal prohibition 
 as epitomized by the futility of neverending operations like Alesia.

Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He lives in Pleasant Hill.
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