Pubdate: Sun, 25 Oct 2009
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2009 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Froma Harrop
Note: Froma Harrop is a member of the Providence (R.I.) Journal's editorial 
board whose work appears occasionally in the Athens Banner-Herald.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


The Ken Burns series "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" got me 
thinking about one of America's worst ideas, the war on drugs. Particularly 
ill-conceived is the crusade against marijuana.

That bad idea is now threatening the good idea, as Mexican drug
cartels - hampered by a tighter border - swarm over large swaths of
U.S. public land to grow pot. There they dump toxic chemicals, dam
streams, clear natural vegetation and leave piles of trash. Marijuana
growers building a campfire set off the recent La Brea fire, which
scorched 90,000 acres of California's Santa Barbara County.

Businesses serving tourists warn visitors against armed drug gangs
protecting their crops. Last June, for example, hikers in southwest
Idaho came upon a marijuana operation with a street value of more than
$6 million.

Pot farms have been found in, among other places, Redwood National
Park in California, North Cascades National Park in Washington state
and Pike National Forest in Colorado. An operation in Sequoia National
Park was discovered just a half-mile from a cave popular with tourists.

Federal and state governments spend $8 billion a year enforcing the
ban on marijuana - and they can't even keep the cartels out of
Yosemite. The National Park Service, meanwhile, frets about diverting
its limited resources from ranger tours to stopping the marijuana growers.

And what purpose does all this spending serve? A new Gallup poll shows
that nearly half of all Americans want to legalize marijuana and tax
it like alcohol or tobacco. And solid majorities favor permitting
medical marijuana, which now is legal in 14 states.

And so the Obama administration's decision to ease up on medical
marijuana is not so much leading public opinion toward more
enlightened drug policy as following it. Under the new policy, federal
agents will not bother users or sellers operating under their state
medical marijuana laws.

But while model conservatives - William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman,
George P. Schultz - have declared the entire war on drugs a dismal
failure, the Republican leadership can't seem to get its mind around
ending even the struggle against marijuana. Already widely used, pot
doesn't cause the serious health problems associated with cocaine or
heroine and, often, alcohol.

Condemning the new directive, Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican,
said, "If we want to win the war on drugs, federal prosecutors have a
responsibility to investigate and prosecute all medical marijuana
dispensaries and not just those that are merely fronts for illegal
marijuana distribution."

Under the old rules, Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided the
backyards of cancer patients permitted by California law to grow pot
to ease their discomfort. Millions, however, still are spent ruining
the lives of kids caught smoking a joint behind the bleachers.

End the ban on pot, and the drug gangs go away. American farmers find
a new business, and government a handsome source of tax revenues.
Turning marijuana into a controlled substance could raise $6.2 billion
in taxes, according to Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron.

And those who worry about exposing Americans to dangerous drugs
actually would sleep better at night. Concern that today's marijuana
is much stronger than the pot smoked in the '70s is warranted, but
legal products are regulated for potency and purity. Alcoholic
beverages became much safer after Prohibition ended. And so would all

Taking away the illicit profits in pot will make the national parks
cleaner and less dangerous. Not many of our problems can be solved by
spending fewer taxpayer dollars, but legalizing marijuana is an
example. That would make it one of contemporary America's better ideas.

Froma Harrop is a member of the Providence (R.I.) Journal's
editorial board whose work appears occasionally in the Athens
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D