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War on drugs a waste of tax payers money

By Hempology | July 28, 2007

Record Searchlight, CA
27 Jul 2007
Paul Armentano


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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