This is a story about a cop in a marijuana field. A true story. As seen on TV. It is about drugs, money, public property, ecology, illegal immigration and what not. More than anything it's about good people doing the wrong job. All of these forming a complex set of problems. With a simple solution.
To get the facts straight, TV is National Geographic's Drugs INC., episode four. Marijuana field is an illegal farm somewhere in the forests of Lake County, California. Cop is the agent Ryan Pontecorvo, an eradication team commander from the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP). After seizing an illegal grow in the forest he says:
The people smuggled in the U. S. … part of their payment back to the smugglers is to be inserted in the different areas of California to set up marijuana commercial grows.
Grow like this probably costs, with all the food and getting these guys in here, chemicals and everything, maybe $10.000 investment to get it going. And that might be on the high end. They can make a profit of a million or couple. So, for a low investment they get a big return.
What he didn't counted in this simple ROI calculation are the risks of the business. Each time he and his crew jump from the sky, the investment is lost. As Ryan said himself:
Basically, we are taking money from them.
And it's not just him. There are lot of crews that can steal the product before it gets to the end customer. Not to mention possible risks and expenses of getting jailed. But still, manufacturers of the illegal drugs make a lot of money.
Every commodity in the history that was illegal was expensive, that's how the market works. Part of the market logic is that the commodity that is scarce gets expensive. Other part is that when somebody holds a monopoly on something, prices get higher.
Drug Lords are the primary beneficiaries of drugs prohibition.
War on drugs is not against them and their business, it's their main market tool. Each loss of investment, each seized shipping is just a regular business expense, like electricity or gas. It's an expense for the privilege to keep the monopoly and raise the prices.
photo by North Cascades National Park
But this story doesn't stop on the money. It's an ecology problem as well.
They cut the trees, they cut the underbrush, they clear it out. They bring poisons in to kill the animals. Lot of times there are chemicals in the water, so they are poisoning the waters.
They take public land and running people off who should be enjoying it for recreation.
Well, of course they do. They can't do it in their backyards, right? None of these problems would emerge if growing marijuana was the same as growing any other plant, like salad or corn. There wouldn't be need for armed agents to run through the forests and risk being shot at. There wouldn't be Mexican (or whichever) drug cartels. It would be possible to enjoy national parks without the risk of running into armed thugs guarding their crops.
We probably would still have the problem of chemicals as we do with salads and corn and the rest of agriculture, but we'd had some ways to work on the problem.
photo by USFS Region 5
Agent Pontecorvo is a hard working man. He and his team are up on the mission 12 hours a day, six days a week. He's on this job for last five years. He flies in a chopper, sneaks through the forest and face the armed and dangerous people. In the words of Ryan's colleague Gary Pitkin:
The folks who are growing the marijuana are not your peace hippies from the 60s. These are armed members of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations, who utilize assault style weapons, assault rifles to protect their cash crops
Well, that's what happens when you prosecute peaceful hippies because of their hair and jail them for decades for a couple of joints in their pockets.
Agents Pontecorvo and Pitkin are aware that their mission can't be accomplished. For each farm they destroy there will be at least one new. Probably more. You can't ever chop out all the weed (pardon the pun). What they don't realize, or refuse to say out loud, is that their battle is a wrong one. Worst of all, they are working for the enemy. And they are payed from your tax money.