Marijuana Prohibition is Hanging on by its Final Thread

Even though I’ve lived west of the Mississippi for half my life, the native New Yorker in me has always been dismissive of reports that my tax dollars are being used to fund black helicopters that are hassling Americans in defense of foreigners, or the UN, or something.

“We have a Constitution,” was my standard tavern line to tipsy ranchers in places like Deming, New Mexico. No Americans are getting invaded by men jumping out of helicopters, I argued. Then I spent a year on the front lines of the war on drugs.

While researching what a post-drug war economy might look like from the producer standpoint — a project spurred in part by the 2011 arrest of the town mayor near my New Mexico ranch on charges that he was a member of a Mexican cartel — I quickly learned to sleep through the roar of helicopter blades that essentially provides the summer soundtrack in American cannabis production country. These choppers are used to seize something like 1% of the domestic cannabis crop. Oh, and sometimes they’re black.

It’s loud and nearly constant, but 40 years of such expensive, constitutionally questionable, cartel-ignoring nonsense has hardly put a dent in supply or demand. How do we know this? Let’s quote the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2009 Domestic Cannabis Cultivation assessment: “The amount of marijuana available for distribution in the United States is unknown…Despite record-setting eradication efforts in the United States, the availability of marijuana remains relatively high, with limited disruption in supply or price.”

Regardless, your tax dollars and mine, by the billions, in a time of fiscal crisis, are going to arrest otherwise law-abiding Americans north of the border. As former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz and even Albert Einstein have pointed out (in 1921 during that early bout of nonsensical Prohibition) this further enriches the murderers south of the border by sustaining a prohibition economy. I don’t know how my neighboring cattle ranchers in the desert knew it, but they’re right: the war on drugs really is being fought for the benefit of foreigners.

Want an example? Just before he and his wife had their Mendocino County, California farm and medical cannabis cooperative destroyed by heavily armed and chainsaw-wielding Drug Enforcement Administration agents last October, a locally permitted, non-profit cannabis farmer and chamber of commerce member named Matt Cohen told me he was confident that he and his fellow American farmers (of America’s far and away number-one cash crop) were on the right side of history.

As we toured the field where his 99 man-sized plants wavered fragrantly in the breeze, the 33-year-old Cohen told me, “By the time alcohol Prohibition ended, on December 5, 1933, 23 states had already enacted laws regulating the alcohol industry.” Yep, he really knew the date. It was kind of his mantra.

In other words, before Congress was forced to wake up 80 years ago, enough states first decided that hysterical zealots telling people what they could or could not ingest was not the way to go, policy-wise. It was no way to run an economy (alcohol taxes at times had provided 70% of federal revenue prior to Prohibition). It was not even a good way to “think of the children,” as the screed still goes. When gangsters control an industry, they don’t ask to see ID. One hundred million Americans have used cannabis, including the last three presidents. “They shouldn’t have to be federal criminals,” Cohen told me last August.

Cohen was not a local criminal. Every plant on his farm wore an expensive, bright-yellow, local permitting “zip-tie” bracelet around its stalk. These represented participation in a new county program started because, in the words of Nobel Laureate free-market economist Milton Friedman in 1991, “Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords.”