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Drug Czar Reasserts White House Opposition to Cannabis Legalization, Misinformation Abounds

In a July 22, 2009 article ("Drug Czar Says U.S. Won't Back Pot Legalization"), Marc Benjamin of California's Fresno Bee reports that U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske "said the federal government will not support legalizing marijuana." Restating an oft-quoted phrase, Kerlikowske told reporters that "Legalization is not in the president's vocabulary, and it's not in mine." The drug czar claims he "understand[s] why legislators" - particularly those of the California persuasion - are pushing taxes on "marijuana cultivation to help cash-strapped government agencies." However, he contends that "the federal government views marijuana as a harmful and addictive drug" with "no medical benefit," despite scientific and anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

Because he was speaking to a "downtown Fresno" audience about "Operation SOS - Save Our Sierra - a multiagency effort to eradicate marijuana in eastern Fresno County," Kerlikowske also cited environmental concerns, telling reporters that America's "federal government is not going to pull back on its efforts to curtail marijuana farming operations" in national parks and other out-of-the-way places. The Bee provides readers with a thorough explanation of the SOS plan. As Benjamin writes, "Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims" stated that "Planning for the operation began in February and focused on marijuana crops being backed by Mexican drug cartels." She told Benjamin that "many cartels are involved, but she would not name any because the investigation" - which has already eradicated "more than 314,000 plants [...] in 70 gardens" - is ongoing.

Kerlikowske's characterization of marijuana regulation and taxation proposals as misguided and socially dangerous solutions to the economic woes currently haunting California and its various municipalities looks particularly ridiculous when viewed in conjunction with the Save Our Sierra effort on which his visit focused. According to the Bee, "Officials say the marijuana-eradication operation will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars," though "the exact amount won't be known until agencies can add up staffing, vehicle and other costs." Already, SOS forces have confiscated "plants valued at more than $1.26 billion" in the operation, which began in the week preceding the drug czar's visit and has already netted - plants excluded - 82 arrests over the course of its 10 day existence.

While no one lauds the "trash, dead animals, and pesticide[ pollution]" that woodland marijuana gardens typically produce, legalizing, regulating and taxing the drug - as California lawmakers and drug policy reform advocates have proposed - could eradicate the problems associated with illegal forest growing operations and give state and federal economies a needed boost. In other words, were marijuana cultivation and distribution brought out from under the cloud of prohibition, the demand for illegally grown and environmentally hazardous marijuana would surely decline, and communities could reap not just the tax benefits but also the proceeds generated from cannabis retail sales themselves and shops peddling currently restricted commodities associated with the drug. Moreover, the federal government and its state counterparts could quit crowding jails with drug offenders and throwing valuable and increasingly scarce dollars at a problem that, under current drug control strategies, may never be solved.

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