A sheriff's helicopter was chugging over Cleveland National Forest, about 15 miles off Ortega Highway, three years and one month ago when the pilot spotted a vast marijuana field. Deputies on the ground later confirmed--and cut down--about 1,000 young plants that had been thriving thanks to an elaborate irrigation system. You'd imagine the men and women in uniform hoisted a few of their favorite legal consumables that night to celebrate a job well done.
But with cannabis legalization efforts picking up steam--hell, even the old coots who still refer to it as "pot" (as does a certain gray Weekly blogger) say they want it--the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) charges today that outdoor eradication efforts are "costly" and "futile."
"Law enforcement officers point to a 2,000 percent increase in plants seized in the past decade and hold that as a sign of success," says Aaron Smith, MPP's California policy director. "But these efforts have had no effect on the widespread prevalence of marijuana in our society. Just like the days of alcohol prohibition, we have ceded control of a popular product to criminals--making them rich in the process."
So rich that they can afford to take the hit from their illegal fields and elaborate irrigation systems being destroyed by law enforcement. And if outdoor growers feel the squeeze, they simply move their crops indoors, increasingly to residential neighborhoods, notes both the MPP and a 2008 Department of Justice threat assessment.
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It's true the annual Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) has produced "gaudy" results, concedes the MPP, but the sheer volume of cannabis reaching consumers proves it's ineffective.
"At a time when California is facing drastic budget cuts," says Smith, "it's beyond irresponsible to continue this costly and ineffective policy."
The MPP has been leading the chorus calling for legalization, regulation and taxation of the devil's weed (oops, revealing my age again. Damn!)
"The only way to get these illegal grows out of our parks and neighborhoods is by ending marijuana prohibition and regulating the drug's production," says Smith. "After all, you don't see wine producers sneaking into forests and setting up covert vineyards."