Pubdate: Sun, 23 Aug 2009
Source: Daily Pilot (Costa Mesa, CA)
Column: It's a Gray Area
Copyright: 2009 Daily Pilot
Author: James P. Gray
Note: James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior 
Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities 
of Judging in Today's Courts (Square One Press, 2008) and can be 
contacted ... via his website at


For the past 17 years, I have, as a sitting judge, been trying to 
call everyone's attention to the failures of our nation's policy of 
drug prohibition. In fact, the truth is that we are "taking it on the 
chin" in every way imaginable, such that we literally couldn't pursue 
a worse policy if we tried. But even I was not aware of the 
additional harm that is being caused by this failed and hopeless 
policy, as represented by the huge forest fire that has been burning 
east of Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County.

Newspapers report that authorities believe this La Brea fire, which 
has burned about 90,000 acres, was started by growers of illegal 
marijuana at a hidden farm in the Los Padres National Forest. The 
trigger for the fire was a propane-fed outdoor camp stove.

How was this fire caused by our policy of drug prohibition? Well, 
obviously, fires like this do not occur where companies like Phillip 
Morris or Ligget and Myers are growing tobacco. First of all, these 
companies aren't forced to grow their crops in remote and desolate 
regions, and secondly, they are much more careful in what they do, 
because if by chance they do start a fire, they are held responsible 
for the damage.

On the contrary, illegal growers are forced out into remote areas, 
and usually onto public lands, because if their operations are 
discovered, the land can't be forfeited. In fact, this particular 
camp is in a steep, overgrown canyon more than a mile from the 
nearest road. The workers unlawfully diverted streams to use for 
irrigation, polluted the ground with stacks of propane tanks and 
melted irrigation tubing, empty fertilizer canisters and large mounds 
of trash. Of course, even if there hadn't been a fire, the workers 
never would have removed any of these items because, being an illegal 
operation, they are not held responsible for any of the damage they cause.

Once authorities located the camp, they found about 30,000 top-grade 
marijuana plants that ranged from two to six feet in height.

The workers had gone to the trouble of building terraces for the 
marijuana plants and installing a drip irrigation system, and 
probably would have been camping in the area for about four to five 
months to allow the plants to mature enough for harvesting. But with 
a street value in the millions of dollars for the marijuana, all of 
their efforts and inconveniences would have been well compensated.

Authorities also reported that so far this year, they have seized 
about 225,000 marijuana plants from six different sites in the area, 
including this one, with a street price of about $675 million.

They further stated that all of the workers they had found so far had 
been illegal immigrants from Mexico, but that really is a false 
issue. Why? Because, as any economist will tell you, if the demand 
for marijuana is here, and there is that much money to be made, 
someone will supply it. And if it is not illegal Mexican immigrants, 
it will be people like your next-door neighbor.

Marijuana has been illegal in this country since 1933, yet it is 
still fully available to anyone who wants it. And that includes our 
children, who report that it is easier for them to get marijuana than 
it is alcohol. And if you don't believe me, ask them yourself.

Today, no one offers a free sample of Jim Beam bourbon or Budweiser 
beer on a high school campus. Why? Because if they were to get even 
close to doing that, they would be in a world of trouble. But illegal 
dealers offer free samples of marijuana and other illicit drugs to 
students on their campuses every day. Why does this happen? Because, 
just like with the La Brea fire situation, as soon as we prohibit a 
substance, we give up all of our ability to regulate or control it. 
That means that we concede all of the controls about quality, age 
restrictions, places of sale, price and everything else to the 
illegal dealers. And they are the ones who want to glamorize the use 
of all of these drugs and get our children hooked -- so they can make 
more money off them. That is really stupid of us.

There is now pending in Sacramento Assembly Bill 390, which is being 
sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano from San Francisco. This measure 
would treat marijuana like alcohol in California, with the proviso 
that it would only go into effect 30 days after the federal law would 
be changed to allow this to occur legally. AB 390 would regulate and 
control the sale of marijuana for adults -- and then tax it! That act 
alone would, according to the chair of the State Board of 
Equalization, bring in additional tax revenue to California of about 
$1.3 billion each year.

Today, marijuana is already the largest cash crop in the state, the 
seizures of those 225,000 marijuana plants this year notwithstanding, 
so this measure certainly will not make it more available than it is now.

But passing AB 390 will raise additional revenue for the state, while 
at the same time reducing the gross revenues of Mexican drug cartels 
by taking away their market.

And it will also reduce violence and corruption in this country, and, 
most importantly, make marijuana less available for children than it is today.

So what's not to like? Accordingly, please call anyone you can vote 
for in Sacramento and urge them to vote for AB 390. This situation is 
far too dangerous to leave up to illegal growers and sellers.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake