Pubdate: Tue, 03 Aug 1999
Source: Capital Times, The  (WI)
Copyright: 1999 The Capital Times


By now most Americans know that studies show marijuana is less harmful than
legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine. And yet our government -- on the
state as well as federal level -- continues to spend huge sums of time and
money on finding and prosecuting users of marijuana -- and on eradicating
the plants in the field as well.

But now our already questionable drug policy has taken a turn that's
decidedly scary. The new head of Florida's Office of Drug Control wants to
put an end to that state's lucrative marijuana business at the source -- in
the very ground where the plants grow. He wants to dust suspect fields --
where plants are likely to be mixed in with other crops -- with a soil-borne
fungus called Fusarium oxysporum.

According to an article in the New York Times, the fungus is a bio-herbicide
engineered to attack plants like marijuana. The Montana company that
developed the fungus swears it's harmless. And the Office of Drug Control
swears the fungus won't be used until it has been tested in rigidly
controlled conditions at a Florida site.

Meanwhile, the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental
Protection noted, "It is difficult, if not impossible to control the spread
of Fusarium species.'' It's particularly dangerous because the mutated fungi
can cause disease in corn, peppers, tomatoes and other crops.

In addition, environmentalists say living things behave differently in
Florida than almost anywhere else in this country because it's warm all the
time. They point to kudzu, introduced in the 1920s to control soil erosion.
It now grows a foot a day in Florida and has consumed acres of roadside.

That infamous plant was never tested, and Florida now insists it has learned
from similar past mistakes. But even as Florida officials promise
precautions this time around, we're getting reports from elsewhere that
wind-borne pollen from genetically modified corn -- thought to be harmless
to nonpest insects -- can kill monarch butterflies. Let's hope the Florida
Office of Drug Control discovers what most of us have already figured out:
bioengineered solutions have the potential to create more problems than they

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