The endless war on pot 

City Sage

It's easy, simplistic and accurate to say (as I did in this space last June) that there are two kinds of Republicans: "Command and Control Moralists" and "Laissez-faire Libertarians."

The latter include past Gazette editorial page editors (Sean Paige, Dan Njegomir, Dan Griswold), who applied Ayn Rand's insights to fields other than unbridled capitalist endeavor, and thousands more Springs residents.

The former have often supported criminalizing relatively harmless behavior, such as using or selling marijuana. They attempted to suppress the pot trade for decades, using scare tactics invented in the 1930s by Harry Anslinger, the O.G. of government narcs.

When Colorado voters amended the state's constitution to permit the sale and cultivation of marijuana, thumbing their collective noses at the Drug Enforcement Administration and assorted federal agencies, the enforcers were stunned. But just as abortion foes adopted new strategies and techniques after Roe v. Wade, Colorado marijuana prohibitionists haven't given up.

The new strategy seems to be waging guerrilla warfare against pot, gradually delegitimizing and restricting its use, and reducing its availability. The formerly libertarian Gazette's continuing editorial series "Clearing the Haze" makes clever use of dubious stats and equally dubious conclusions to cast doubt upon the cheerful triumphalism of marijuana advocates.

The daily has given the old arguments a new spin, targeting parents.

Today's powerful reefer will fry your kid's brain! Her I.Q. will drop by eight points. He'll get paralytically stoned and kill himself and friends in a fiery car crash! Your toddler will gobble your edibles and overdose.

You have to wonder whether the new prohibitionists are affected by a kind of DEA nostalgia, reluctant to cast aside a vast, government-funded, anti-marijuana, anti-drug industry.

The War on Drugs, like the War on Terror, has created lots of jobs. How many? That's difficult to say. With a budget of $2.88 billion, the DEA currently employs 11,000. It may spearhead the war on marijuana, but it's a relatively small government agency. Marijuana combatants in other federal agencies, in state governments and in local police forces account for many more such positions. Then there are private-sector organizations, such as drug-testing companies, whose business models depend on illegal dope.

By investing so much time, effort and treasure chasing after pot, other efforts are shortchanged. Such misguided priorities go back for decades.

In January 1976, Rolling Stone published a story entitled "The Deep Six Connection — Murder and Piracy on the High Seas." Written by Howard Kohn and Clark Norton, the piece documented the then-new phenomenon of yachtjacking. According to the authors four decades ago, "More than 600 pleasure craft and 2,000 crew members mysteriously vanished from the high seas during the last three years. Prime suspects: a ruthless band of cutthroats smuggling Asian heroin and South American cocaine."

You'd think the Coast Guard, DEA and other federal agencies would have been all over this, since so many American citizens were thus victimized. In fact, the agencies were concentrating on marijuana, seizing thousands of pounds of dope from shrimpers and speedboats. Consumed by the war on weed, the Coast Guard paid little attention to the missing yachts.

"When [congressional investigator] Carl Perian started asking questions," the authors noted, "the Coast Guard offered unconvincing explanations of tropical storms and a sudden swell of inexperienced sailors."

Confronted with the facts, the agency finally released a notice to mariners, warning them of yachtjackers. Not coincidentally, "the flood of missing boats that had continued unabated for three years abruptly came to a halt."

"By concentrating on marijuana," the Rolling Stone story asserted, "the DEA had in effect left yachtjackers free to specialize in the less bulky and far more profitable cargos of heroin, cocaine and hashish."

In a coda that could have been written yesterday, DEA critics suggested yachtjacking was the unintended offspring of restrictive drug laws. Otherwise "there would be no huge profiteering, no black markets, no drug running — and none of the brutal men and brutal methods that combination now breeds."

Heroin, prescription opiates and synthetic cannabinoids will challenge both law enforcement and public health organizations indefinitely. That's a strong argument for leaving marijuana alone; it's the most sensible way to allocate limited resources or, as the Gazette might say, clear the haze.


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