Reference the Aug. 3rd article on marijuana busts in Scott County, it's
that time of year again. Marijuana growers throughout the region designated
as the Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) are
cultivating their illegal crop. For the next few months, anti-drug task
forces will comb through remote areas of Kentucky, Tennessee and West
Virginia in search of America's number one cash crop. Ironically, it's the
efforts of drug warriors that make marijuana growing profitable. Thanks to
the drug war's distortion of basic supply and demand dynamics, an easily
grown weed is literally worth its weight in gold in urban centers. With
money practically growing on trees, any grow operations destroyed will be

The $6 million dollar Appalachian HIDTA initiative is tantamount to a price
support for organized crime. The self-professed champions of the free
market in Congress are seemingly incapable of applying fundamental economic
principles to drug policy.

Marijuana prohibition is an integral part of the larger drug war. In 1999,
46 percent of the 1,532,200 total arrests nationwide for drug violations
were for marijuana, a total of 704,812. Of those arrests, 620,541 were for
possession alone. Filling America's prisons with pot smokers does nothing
to protect children from drugs. Indeed, the drug war only makes it easier
for teen-agers to buy drugs.

Prohibition was repealed in 1933 amidst concerns that the black market was
not only financing organized crime, but also exposing minors to liquor at
levels previously unheard of. The infamous mobsters of the '20s and '30s
did not ID customers for age, nor did they add warning labels to
potentially lethal bottles of bathtub gin.

These days protections are in place to keep liquor out of the hands of
children. No such protections exist when it comes to popular illicit drugs.
The Monitoring the Future Survey, an ongoing study of the behaviors,
attitudes, and values of young Americans, reports that for every year from
1975 to 2000, at least 82 percent of high school seniors surveyed find
marijuana "fairly easy" or "very easy" to obtain. In 2000, 89 percent of
high school seniors reported that marijuana was fairly or very easy to
obtain. Drug policies modeled after alcohol prohibition have given rise to
a youth-oriented black market in which marijuana, the most popular illicit
drug, is readily available, despite its illegality. Fortunately, marijuana
is relatively harmless compared to alcohol, which continues to be the most
popular recreational drug.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19,515
Americans died of alcohol-induced deaths in 1998. In the thousands of years
humans have used marijuana, there has never been an overdose death
attributed to pot. The same cannot be said of aspirin, much less a highly
toxic drug like alcohol.

The U.S. could learn from the Dutch. In Europe, the Netherlands has
successfully reduced overall drug use by replacing marijuana prohibition
with regulation. Dutch rates of drug use are significantly lower than U.S.
rates in every category. Separating the hard and soft drug markets and
establishing age controls for marijuana have proven more effective than
zero tolerance. Taxing and regulating marijuana is a cost-effective
alternative to spending tens of billions annually on a failed drug war.

Although marijuana is relatively harmless compared to many legal drugs,
marijuana prohibition is deadly. As the most popular illicit drug in
America, marijuana provides the black market contacts that introduce users
to hard drugs like meth and heroin. This "gateway" is the direct result of
a fundamentally flawed policy. Given that marijuana is arguably safer than
legal alcohol, it makes no sense to waste tax dollars on failed policies
that finance organized crime and facilitate the use of hard drugs. Drug
policy reform may send the wrong message to children, but the children
themselves are more important than the message. Opportunistic "tough on
drugs" politicians would no doubt disagree.

Mr. Sharpe is Program Officer for the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy
Foundation of Washington, D.C.,

Newshawk: chip
Pubdate: Fri, 10 Aug 2001
Source: Kingsport Times-News (TN)
Copyright: 2001 Kingsport Publishing Corporation
Author: Robert Sharpe
Note: Will not publish letters in print editions from online users who do
not reside in print circulation area, unless they are former residents or
have some current connection to Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.
Mr. Sharpe is Program Officer for the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy
Foundation of Washington, D.C.,