A few years ago I innocently wrote a post about how it was (in my very humble opinion, cause I am so humble) a really bad idea to smoke marijuana while pregnant.
Well, WOW. That really ticked people off. And I have to admit that while I feel I can be objective on many subjects, this one is a tad emotional for me. Let me tell you why.
I live in the first county in the United States to legalize marijuana. In fact, the first time I voted ever at the age of 18 I voted to legalize marijuana in this county. Was I a big fan of smoking marijuana? No, I wasn't. In fact because of my religious beliefs I don't even drink coffee or beer.
Still, I had grown up here, many if not most of my friend's parents grew a plant or two for their own personal use and frankly I didn't see the harm in it being legalized for people to use (medically or not) for their own use on a very small scale. Not only that, it seemed like a waste of taxpayers money to be putting people in jail for growing or smoking a little weed.
So I voted to legalize. (This was probably 1998.) And I moved away.
Then, many years later I moved back.
Well, the small town I had grown up in had changed quite a bit and not for the better in that time. The laws regarding marijuana legalization have been interesting and are frequently in the courts and seem to change often. I can't say that I keep up on that. Now however, cultivating marijuana for medicinal use is legal with some parameters.
In the last few years a few different states have joined up and started passing laws legalizing marijuana in some form or another. All over the internet I hear people spouting off about how they just know that marijuana legalization is wonderful and will fix society as well as cancer. Interestingly enough, they almost always live in Ohio or some other place where not only is marijuana still illegal, but you would have one hell of a time growing it even if you wanted to. Frankly, many of these "pro-legalization" folks don't have any idea what they are talking about.
But I do. I live here. Not only is growing and smoking and selling legal (to some degree) where I live, the county I live in (and some of the surrounding counties) are very well suited to growing marijuana and so there are huge crops here.
Let me tell you what REALLY happens to a town when you legalize marijuana.
First, people need to realize that this is an industry and there is a LOT of money involved. I get the distinct impression from pro-legalization folks that they sincerely believe that marijuana is some kind of magic drug that can do no evil and inspire no evil. The truth is that ANYTHING that generates this kind of cash will bring some bad people with it.
So in my town, every time we get close to harvest there is an incredible influx of what we call "trimmers". These are people who come to town to "trim" the crops. When I was a kid this area was largely agricultural (pears and grapes) and there have always been lots of migrant workers. I grew up with lots of kids who worked in the summers in the fields with their parents. Those migrant workers worked their butts off to have a good life for themselves and their children and they were often families.
Trimmers are not often families. They are usually young, single people (who look suspiciously like they might be middle class hitchhikers going for a cheap version of a European vacation with their brand new REI backpacks) who show up for a few months to trim the crops and get paid in bud.
I am going to go out on a limb here and sound very politically incorrect and just say that a lot of these people are downright scary. (Not all of them look like middle class kids out for a good time.) I am sure that living on the street is scary so many (MANY) of these trimmers (who also happen to be homeless) have big scary dogs that go everywhere with them. They seem to all live in the Walmart or Safeway parking lot passing around a joint or a bottle of whiskey. (I am not making this up.)
In fact, during certain months this is so scary that I have to stop going for walks with my children. I have been repeatedly accosted by these people. I have stopped going to certain grocery stores because there are literally so many people sitting out front asking for change or swearing loudly with their friends and their dogs that I didn't feel safe there any more.
Now maybe you are thinking, "Why don't they just call the police. That is loitering and it is illegal." That is a lovely idea. But this is a small town and our local police force simply cannot handle the sheer overwhelming amount of roving homeless people that are brought here every year for the marijuana season.
I actually once had the opportunity to witness one of these people die. When coming out of a lovely local bakery with my young children we got to watch it all happen. The ambulance and the fire department were literally stripping this guy down and zapping his chest while my three year old pelted me with questions about what was going on. Needless to say, watching somebody die before their eyes wasn't on agenda when we decided to go for a walk in a normally nice part of town.
So, consequence number one of legalization in my town has been a totally overwhelming amount of vagrants and homeless people and a scarier and less safe town.
Consequence number two of marijuana legalization (in no particular order) is violent crime.
Did I mention that there is a lot of money to be made off of this drug? There is. Even if you insist that marijuana is an herb, it can still be sold on the street as a drug and people will hurt (and kill) other people for it.
Every year there are numerous instances of violent home invasions or shootings involving marijuana grows. This is not "safe". This is not a victimless, loving, wonderful herbal remedy. Marijuana and the cultivation of it is BIG BUSINESS and people will kill for it.
I have heard stories of families (yes families will grow with children in their homes, I have seen it over and over again) held at gunpoint while their crop is stolen. I have seen documented cases of people shot and killed in our national forests because they came upon an illegal grow. (While marijuana cultivation is legal in certain instances it is still totally illegal to grow it secretly in a national forest). The big growers have big crops and they protect them with guns. People get killed. EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.
Here is one.
And a home invasion.
In my local paper there are frequent invasions and shootings during harvest time.
Those that promote legalization often speak from the comfort and safety of their home in a place where marijuana will never be grown on a large scale.
Let me tell you what happens when you actually live here. I live in quiet neighborhood close to the center of town. Despite the fact that I am not very rural (where many of the big grows are) many of my neighbors still grow. One night while nursing my baby to sleep at midnight I heard footsteps in my backyard just below my bedroom window. Then I saw a flashlight beam. Then footsteps again.
I woke my husband and I was freaked out. I KNEW that somebody was in our backyard wandering around. He went outside. We called the police. The police arrived and found the man wandering down the street a few blocks up. He couldn't be charged of course. By then he was just walking.
But the police told us that he was probably looking for hidden marijuana crops in our backyard or shed and they get many calls like this during harvest. Maybe this is no big deal when you live elsewhere and you want to smoke a joint. But this is incredibly scary when you have young children and you just want to keep them safe. Especially when you know that people who are willing to break into a house or shed at night to steal weed might be capable of much more than breaking and entering.
Does just not feeling safe any more count as a valid consequence to this "herbal" legalization?
Another thing that has happened is that our national parks are not only no longer safe, but they are no longer safe from pollution.
It isn't legal for anybody to grow in the national parks, but once we cracked open the door to small scale personal grows for medical use the floodgates opened. There are HUGE grows in the hills and forests around where I live. These big and destructive grows seem to have started right around the same time that we legalized marijuana here.
It is interesting to note that the normally crunchy people who promote marijuana cultivation (and love of the environment) forget about what is happening in our national forests because of this.
Now many people think that the big fix to all this will be (surprise!) full and total legalization.
I respectfully disagree.
We don't KNOW what will happen if this is fully legalized. But we do know what has happened with legalization on a small scale. In my town it has yielded more fear, more violent crime, more damage to the environment, and a few people making lots of money off of it. Frankly, I find it hard to believe that those who grow are really doing this for the good of mankind. They are doing it for money.
I pay bills too. I understand the need to feed a family. I know many people who smoke or grow marijuana. I don't actually (surprise again!) care about that or have a problem with it. Everybody gets the right to live their life and their beliefs how they see fit.
But we need to be honest about this. We don't know what will happen if we further legalize marijuana. NOBODY could have predicted what has already happened here in Mendocino and the surrounding counties. Nobody predicted this. I voted to legalize and I had no idea this would happen. When we discuss this on a national level we should at least listen to and acknowledge what is really happening to real people who live where marijuana is grown. Please don't dismiss me. Please don't dismiss these real problems.
This is scary and it isn't OK. But the truth is, no matter what happens it won't impact most Americans. In fact, the biggest impact it will ever have is right here where I live because this is where it is and has always been grown.
Personally, I wish it was illegal again. Of course people would still do it, fine, whatever. But there wouldn't be such huge grows. Local law enforcement literally does not have the resources to shut down all these ILLEGAL grows. Once a year the feds come in and bust people growing on in the national parks, but they always come back (with their guns).
The sad truth is that when we legalized marijuana in my home town we opened the floodgates to more crime, more death, more people coming here who overload public resources and have no investment in this economy. We invited more fear into our lives. It is one of the saddest things I have ever seen.
I wish we hadn't done it.