While the mountainous cloud forests looming between Redwood Coast and the Sacramento Valley have been prime marijuana country since the ’70s, when the logging industry tanked and barely regulated medical cannabis hit California in the ’90s, the Emerald Triangle found its billion dollar industry. The cartels have been trashing the forests ever since.
The North Coast’s massive, rural electoral borders have long been connected by narrow tendrils to densely populated, urban (liberal) enclaves, which we’d call gerrymandering if this was Texas and benefitted Republicans. After redistricting in 2011, a Sacramento tendril was swapped for a Marin County one, and Bay Area Democrat Jared Huffman was easily elected 350 miles south of his poor district’s northern border.
Huffman has highlighted himself as The Guy in Washington concerned with the environmental effects of the Drug War, and he’s a natural choice to write the introduction to Where There’s Smoke: The Environmental Science, Public Policy, and Politics of Marijuana, edited by Char Miller and published by the University Press of Kansas. A natural choice, but not a good choice, considering Huffman’s singular legislative achievement in the Drug War was to increase prison sentences for growing marijuana.
While it’s fine to explore marijuana from an environmental perspective, if your solution to marijuana pollution is that more people need to be imprisoned, and for longer, you’re incompetent, heartless or completely out of touch. If America could incarcerate itself out of drug use, it would have happened by now.
Raiding illegal grows in military gunships and arresting undocumented cartel slaves on felony pollution charges (for doing a fraction of what fossil fuel, agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies legally get away with) is absurd and ineffective. A heroic ride-along on such a bust is exactly how Miller allows Huffman to introduce this collection, but luckily most of the anthology’s other writers are professional scholars more critical of the state’s failures in the Drug War.
The book is split into three comprehensive sections exploring the environmental fallout, criminal justice problems and legalization battles of marijuana in America. Being comprehensive means including moralistic rubes, and several authors fail like Huffman to critique their anti-drug schemes, such as a California fish and game cop relating his experience almost getting shot raiding a cartel trespass grow.
Getting into a gunbattle in 2012 over illegal marijuana seems like a lousy way to go, but writer John Nores details the raid with the same tactical professionalism and hope in a lost cause Dolchstoßlegende you’d find in unabashedly pro-war Vietnam memoirs. In fact, Nores wrote just such a memoir about “the dangerous special operations missions conducted by the allied agency Marijuana Eradication Team,” titled War in the Woods, which was praised by the Clinton-era drug czar responsible for buying anti-pot rewrites in “Beverly Hills, 90210” scripts.
Amos Irwin of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition thankfully obliterates Nores’ Thin Blue Line power fantasy in the following chapter, explaining that raids are counterproductive and cartels turned to public trespass grows only because civil asset forfeiture laws made operations on private land risker for them (and lucrative for law enforcement).
While the threat posed by the cartels to the environment and unlucky hikers is dramatic, it’s the last and least thrilling chapters of the book that offer the most important insights for Montanans. In comparing the political history of medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and California, obvious parallels with Montana’s medical rollercoaster appear. Wondering when Montana will legalize recreational marijuana? The authors suggest it’s a matter of having enough local money (from profitable medical dispensaries) to attract national organizations specializing in campaigning and writing legislation that promises enough regulation and taxation to woo business-minded conservatives away from puritanical colleagues. For Montana, that means not soon, but soonish.
Legal markets leave room for blackmarketeers to operate when legislators get greedy with taxation, and nine states legalized marijuana not to end the Drug War, but to open the drug market to venture capitalists and government budgets. Where There’s Smoke comes at the dawn of legal recreational marijuana in California, but suggests national forests will remain at risk to trespass grow pollution so long as the federal government continues to fight an unwinnable war.