Friday, December 21, 2007

EDITORIAL: Tax dollars up in (marijuana) smoke

Is irony mocking ignorance? To quote from the premier issue of the Lompoc
Valley magazine, "Lompoc was founded in 1874 as a temperance colony, but all
the dynamite in the valley and mobs of ax-wielding women couldn't keep
liquor out of town. ... As the years passed, the 'wets' grew in number and
eventually the courts nullified the no-booze restrictions."

In that same issue of the Lompoc Valley Magazine, simply turn the page and
read "Santa Rita Hills Wine Country," a fine article touting the successes
of our growing wine industry. What would Mrs. J. B. Pierce, the apparently
self-appointed 19th century Lompoc Temperance Czarina, say to Mr. DeWayne
Holmdahl, city councilman and vocal supporter of our local imbibing
industry? However, alcohol is not the irony at hand.

The Lompoc Record reported, "Marijuana eradication sets county record ...
92,000 plants were destroyed with a street value of $288.4 million." In the
same article a previous raid netted "62,000 plants valued at about $195

What could be done with $483.4 million worth of marijuana, which we
taxpayers actually paid our police officers tens of thousands of dollars in
salary and equipment to destroy? Didn't we Californians vote in 1996 to make
medical marijuana available to the sick and dying?

In Lompoc we are in the midst of building a hospital, which administrator
Jim Raggio tells us will cost $74.5 million and for which we voted in 2005
to tax ourselves. We are also building a new wastewater plant, which plant
manager Susan Halpin informs us has grown in cost to $80 million but it will
be state-of-the-art when finished. However, that $80 million will be "repaid
through increases in the city wastewater tax rate," according to Halpin.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors just voted in favor of a new
parcel tax, $32 annually to cover the estimated $8 million that county
hospitals lose each year due the uninsured and underinsured. The city of
Lompoc has yet to settle its negotiations with the police union, the Lompoc
Federation of Teachers begins new contract negotiations this fall and a
ballot measure early next year will be asking for a public safety sales tax
increase here in Lompoc.

So much money needed, so many taxes, new and old and yet our professional
police officers destroy nearly a half-billion dollars of marijuana. The cost
of building a hospitals, a sewage plant, hiring peace officers, none of this
adds up to the reported dollar value of what has been destroyed in the last
90 days. But perhaps spending tens of thousands of dollars destroying
hundreds of millions of dollars worth of this weed, this illicit drug,
actually saved us from an even greater destruction this marijuana would have
ultimately rained down upon us. I have never seen any such monetary
cost/benefit calculation.

William F. Buckley Jr., in the National Review, wrote that the book
"Marijuana Myths/Marijuana Facts" (published by the Lindesmith Center - was " remarkable ... a miracle of intelligent concision Š
Legislators who write marijuana laws and judges who sentence marijuana users
should Š consult this little book."

The Journal of the American Medical Association called the same book "an
important contribution to the marijuana and drug policy literature," while
Dr. Michael Farrell, in the British Medical Journal, described it as an
"impressive attack on much of the mythology around marijuana."

One has a duty to be an informed citizen in a democracy so as to avoid
misfortune and wickedness which are rooted in ignorance, as discovered so
long ago by the ancient Greeks.

Here is a list of some of the scientifically debunked myths regarding
marijuana as reported in Marijuana Myths/Marijuana Facts:

Myth 1 - Marijuana is highly addictive. Myth 2 - Marijuana is a Gateway
Drug. Myth 3 - Marijuana kills brain cells. Myth 4 - Marijuana causes
Amotivational Syndrome. Myth 5 - Marijuana impairs cognition and memory.
Myth 6 - Marijuana causes crime. Myth 7 - Marijuana is more damaging to the
lungs than tobacco. Myth 8 - Marijuana has no medical value.

This little book actually debunks 20 myths surrounding marijuana but I've
only listed eight. While simply negating most of these myths would move you
closer to the truth, it is actually a bit more complicated than that,
according to the book.

The longest declared war in U.S. history is the War on Drugs. How could this
constant war with so many billions upon billions of dollars spent result in
93,000 marijuana plants just south of little, quiet Lompoc with no one
arrested, no suspects? How could the Reagan administration's "Just say No! -
Zero Tolerance," policies result in one of the great explosions in marijuana
cultivation both in terms of new plant varieties and plant potency? (see M.
Pollan, "The Botany of Desire").

The enemy in this war on drugs seems a myth, a cartoon super villain. Police
officers, like men and women in uniform, are expected to follow the orders
of superiors and these superiors, in a democracy are expected to follow the
commands of their final authority, the people. That is why open debates
among informed citizens about wars do not reflect disloyalty or a lack of
patriotism. We, the people, who are not omniscient, must openly, candidly,
respectfully sort out truth and justice.

It just seems ironic to pay so much to have some non-toxic, medicinal plant
destroyed whose value in the market would apparently eliminate the need for
most of our local taxes.

Joseph White is a professor at Santa Barbara City College. He lives in

December 21, 2007

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