Last Thursday, a crew of volunteers was helping the state Department of Fish and Wildlife conduct a marijuana-eradication mission in a remote part of the Sequoia National Forest when Shane Krogen, a 57-year-old volunteer, fell out of a helicopter, dropping 50 feet to his death. Friends described him as a generous and dedicated outdoorsman who was committed to protecting natural lands. According to media reports, his loved ones tried to find solace in the fact that he died doing just that.
Should Krogen's death be laid at the feet of marijuana? That's complicated. By itself, of course, the plant is not at all lethal. A recent post on the Huffington Post teased readers with the headline, "Here Are All the People Who Have Died From a Marijuana Overdose." Click the link and you see a GIF of baby panda bears frolicking. The point? There's never been a single confirmed case of someone dying strictly from pot. (Also, baby pandas are super-cute.)
But as with alcohol, prohibition has sent the weed industry into the shadows of the underground — and, more literally, onto our precious natural lands. And because it's a black market, people are occasionally killed in pursuit of the industry's wildly inflated profits. That same pursuit is leading to destruction of our region's wilderness, and Krogen died trying to protect it.
It's difficult to reconcile these deaths with the relatively benign impacts of the plant itself. It's even harder to justify the 70-year "war" against cannabis, which at best could be described as a zero-sum-game. Economists estimate that taxpayers effectively spend between $10 billion and $20 billion every year fighting the war on pot. We're also arresting tokers at near record levels. According to statistics released by the FBI earlier this week, there were 749,824 marijuana arrests in 2011 (the most recent data available), and a whopping 87 percent of those arrests were for mere possession.
What do we have to show for our efforts? Marijuana use has increased over the last decade. In both 2001 and 2003, 38 percent of Americans acknowledged that they have used marijuana, according to the Pew Research Center. Earlier this year the number was up to 48 percent, and a majority of Americans now favor full legalization for the first time in more than four decades of polling.
When weed is eventually legalized and regulated, which is where things seem to be headed, three quarters of a million fewer people will be arrested each year and, inevitably, fewer people will die. The downside for many locals, of course, will be smaller profits. What's worth more?
Last week in this space we mentioned the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Control Act, which would have placed regulation in California under the jurisdiction of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). The bill didn't make it to the floor of the Legislature before Friday's deadline, but its sponsors say they'll try again in January.
More than 150 people in Colorado have gotten sick from synthetic marijuana and three may have died from it, according to NPR. Which prompts the question: Why would anybody smoke mysterious chemicals designed to imitate marijuana, especially in a state where the real thing is now legal?
A pro-legalization group called Fire It Up Kansas got shot down in its attempt to adopt a highway in the sunflower state. The Kansas Department of Transportation said it was only the second application denied in the past decade. The first was from the KKK.
The Associated Press last week reported on Jamaican "ganja tours" being offered to tourists. For $50, a pot farmer nicknamed "Breezy" will give you a tour of his farm and a sample of his crop. Pot remains illegal in Jamaica, but many residents now say legalization could give the country's struggling economy a boost by capitalizing on its weedy reputation. •