Missing the Forest for the Trees?

Jul 07, 2010

Bruce Ross, Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, eradication, Record Searchlight, Redding, Wall Street Journal

Bruce Ross at the Redding Record Searchlight takes issue with my post about a recent Wall Street Journal article, which showed once again how marijuana eradication efforts are counterproductive, but that law enforcement engage in them still because the federal government pays them to. I’ll reserve further comment, and let readers reach their own conclusions. You can read our back-and-forth exchange below:

Bruce Ross: “It’s not about the money.”

Mike Meno of the Marijuana Policy Project reads this weekend's Wall St. Journal story about how Shasta County is continuing -- using federal money -- its campaign against marijuana growing to mean that the county is only doing it for the money, arguing that it's a minor problem and a law the sheriff wouldn't even be enforcing but for the federal dollars.

Well, he gets paid to argue for the legalization of marijuana, so of course he'd think that. But if he knew a bit of the history that any attentive county resident would have picked up over the past decade, he'd know that illegal marijuana growing has mushroomed beyond all previous records in recent years. I vividly recall how in 2005, the Colorado-based environmental magazine High Country News ran a cover article about remote public forests being exploited by growers -- Ground Zero for the trend? Shasta County.

That year, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting uprooted more than million plants statewide, doubling its haul from the previous year, and about three-quarters of that was on public lands, including national parks. Shasta County was the No. 1 county for seizures of illegal pot, with more than 200,000 plants found.

That was '05. And in 2009? The haul was more than 600,000 plants. And growers are still planting mega-gardens.

In other words, there's a very large problem. Overwhelmed federal land managers and local authorities lobbied their bosses and Rep. Wally Herger to supply more federal resources to fight the problem. The facts made persuasive arguments. That is why the federal government is devoting substantial money to fighting marijuana in Shasta County. And they're not using that money to hassle individual smokers or those growing and using under Prop. 215's medicinal guidelines.

Would this problem largely disappear if marijuana could be grown legally? Probably so, and I've written as much a few times.

But the implication that it's not a real problem in our woods today, and that Tom Bosenko's crews are mercenaries who are only chasing pot growers for the federal cash, is ignorant and dishonest.

And here was my response:


Of course I agree that illegal marijuana grows are “a very large problem,” but even the least astute observer would realize it’s a problem law enforcement cannot—and more importantly, have failed to—solve through eradication. The figures you cite prove my point. Each year officers go into the woods to find and dig up more marijuana, and each year criminals are simply encouraged to grow more, thereby worsening the problem. Repeating an action again and again while expecting different results, the maxim goes, is the very definition of insanity. This is why it’s so outrageous that the federal government continues to throw money at such counterproductive efforts. As you (correctly) pointed out, the only true solution is to regulate marijuana and eliminate the need for illegal grows altogether.

It’s also interesting that you leveled the charge of being “ignorant and dishonest” at someone who simply blogged about the story, rather than at the story’s actual author—a writer at the esteemed Wall Street Journal—whose excellent reporting left no doubt whatsoever that police continually engage in this Quixotic quest simply to obtain federal funds that help them keep their departments afloat. Just take the story’s first two paragraphs:

IGO, Calif.—Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, his budget under pressure in a weak economy, has laid off staff, reduced patrols and even released jail inmates. But there's one mission on which he's spending more than in recent years: pot busts.

The reason is simple: If he steps up his pursuit of marijuana growers, his department is eligible for roughly half a million dollars a year in federal anti-drug funding, helping save some jobs. The majority of the funding would have to be used to fight pot. Marijuana may not be the county's most pressing crime problem, the sheriff says, but "it's where the money is."

Seriously, did you even bother to read the article before writing your post? Sheriff Bosenko himself says the eradication funds are "$340,000 I could use somewhere else in my organization … That could fund three officers' salaries and benefits, and we could have them out on our streets doing patrol." Instead he’s obligated to spend those funds on an objective he knows is unreachable and that he himself says is not as important as the many other issues he needs to focus on. Let that sink in: The sheriff himself (not me) is saying he’d like to focus on other problems and—in direct contradiction to what you wrote—the only reason he’s “chasing pot growers” is for the money. Is the sheriff being “ignorant and dishonest” as well?

Your beef is not with me, Bruce. It’s with the wasteful and irrational policies that allow these illegal grows to continue.

And then his response to my response:

Mr. Meno,

Pardon my ill temper. I've never met you. I have no reason to think you're anything but an honest guy.

But you also don't know what you're talking about if you think the feds just showed up one day offering money if local sheriffs wanted to chase pot growers out in the woods. The pressure was very much from the ground -- and not just from law enforcement but even more so from the local heads of federal land-management agencies who saw a long-standing problem spread beyond their abilities to control.

To which I say (once again), let's finally put an end to that longstanding problem, and regulate marijuana.