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Sunday, April 29, 2007

WHY are my tax dollars paying for this?

No, I'm not talking about the Iraq Civil War.

I'm talking about THIS.

Life came unglued for Bernie Ellis on the day drug agents raided his farm like it was the fortified villa of a South American cocaine kingpin. Ellis was bush-hogging around his berry patches when two helicopters swept low over the treetops. Then, rumbling in on four-wheelers, came 10 officers of the Tennessee Marijuana Eradication Task Force. The war on drugs had arrived, literally, in Ellis’ backyard. It was a major operation to strike a righteous blow against the devil weed.

It must have been a real disappointment. Ellis, a public health epidemiologist, readily acknowledged that he was growing a small amount of medical marijuana to cope with a degenerative condition in his hips and spine. He was giving pot away to a few terminally ill people too. There were only a couple dozen plants of any size scattered around his place—enough to produce seven or eight pounds of marijuana worth about $7,000.

But for that crime—growing a little herb to ease his own pain and the agony of a few sick and dying people—Ellis was prosecuted like an ordinary drug pusher. Actually, if he had been one, he probably would have been treated less harshly. He has mounted $70,000 in debt to his lawyers, lost his livelihood and spent the past 18 months living in a Nashville halfway house. Worst of all, he risks losing his beloved Middle Tennessee farm—187 acres of rolling green hills along the Natchez Trace Parkway. Prosecutors are trying to seize the property as a drug-case forfeiture, and Ellis is fighting against the odds to save his home of nearly 40 years.

It seems to me that the bucks spent on tracking down, arresting, incarcerating, and prosecuting a sick old guy for growing a plant that makes him feel a little better, could better be spent on, oh, where should we start? A couple solar panels on public buildings? Maybe a geothermal installation or two? A few more resources for after-school programs? Simply paying down the deficit?

I sometimes tell people that I know I'm a liberal because I don't mind paying my taxes. What bothers me most about tax time is not the final figure, but the time and hassle that goes into it (and the anxiety that a simple mistake will end up in a more significant expense of time and hassle sometime in the future).

But stuff like this makes me feel some common cause with conservatives and tax-haters. I mean come on, I don't mind giving my share to the government so I can live in a reasonably safe and democratic society (and yes, despite current trends, we in the US are still better off than many), but I don't like to see it being spent on stupidity like this.

And oh yeah, speaking of stupidity, about that Iraq Civil War - that too, of course.

Which brings me to part II of this rant. "Opportunity Cost" - a term I heard in first year Economics in college - that is what I think of when I think of sending this story to my elected reps with the question "Why the HELL are you letting this happen?" Because, you know, the Iraq Debacle has and continues to hurt, maim, kill, and generally destroy the lives of far more people than this elderly pot grower and his friends. It seems the media and the politicos are rightly all wrapped up in figuring out how to extricate us from Bush's Blunder - and when they aren't, then there is this little matter of global warming to deal with - so there is just no time left, it seems, for dealing with the relatively minor stupidity of a "War on Drugs" run amok. That's the opportunity cost of the Iraq War - it's sucked away all the resources for dealing with the very real problems that existed before we invaded Iraq. Those problems aren't going away, they are only getting worse - just like the threat of terrorism too, oh by the way, according to Bruce Reidel, counterterrorism expert.

UGH! This stuff drives me crazy. It took me a long time to catch on, because I've never been into illegal drugs, but I've become pretty well convinced that the War on Drugs is just a war against American citizens. Yeah, the laws are in place, and they should be enforced, but not like this. This reeks of BS.
It's also:

* a profit opportunity for drug-war contractors (not to mention job security)
* a way to put lots of minorities in jail and ultimately keep them from voting (see felon disenfranchisement)
* probably ineffective at dealing with the real problem of people using illegal drugs - the root cause being hopelessness or at least directionlessness (I know, I was a kid once, with the latter affliction - and I definitely inhaled.)

I actually agree with some constraints on certain substances - by handling them like pharmaceuticals. If something should require a prescription, set it up that way, and then deal with the people who violate the prescription laws. I am so far at least, in complete agreement with the recent move to put pseudoephedrine behind the counter and requiring id and purchase limits - because methamphetamine is a bad, bad deal. But I can still go to the pharmacy and get my legitimate need for cold medicine filled. Although I think the main danger from marijuana comes from our society's handling of it, I would be satisfied if they just made it available for people using it for medical purposes, and a misdemeanor for recreational use. But no way should it ever be a felony. And people shouldn't lose their right to vote over it. Or their property, as the man in the article may have happen to him.
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