A failed war

Why do we continue spending billions on a losing war on drugs?

Our cover story this week, “Taking the high road,” is about Washington and Colorado voters’ decision to allow residents to use marijuana recreationally, and what that might mean for California. But there are other important matters at stake on the marijuana front, including the future of the “war on drugs.”

Why, after all, does the United States continue to spend billions of dollars futilely trying to keep people from using marijuana, when most Americans believe pot is less harmful than alcohol?

Nearly 800,000 people are arrested for pot possession in the United States every year. That’s one every 42 seconds, and for what? Possessing a weed that grows anywhere?

There are powerful economic forces behind the war on drugs, including private-prison operators, prison-guards unions and the rest of the prison-industrial complex. Fortunately, in these financially pinched times, many chiefs of police and sheriffs are beginning to realize that not having to pursue pot smokers frees up resources to go after rapists and murderers.

Keep that in mind as you read “Taking the high road.”

Brown comes around: An editorial in our Dec. 27 issue, “Brown is bluffing, right?” called attention to the governor’s statement that he was holding back on expanding the state’s Medi-Cal program, as allowed by the Affordable Care Act, because it would be too costly.

He’s wrong about that, we said. The benefits—in increased health care and federal funds flowing to California—are much, much greater than the expense. Perhaps the governor is just bluffing in an effort to squeeze more money out of the feds, we suggested.

We’re happy to report that he’s changed his mind. Last week he announced that California would commit to implementation of the Affordable Care Act and that he was including $350 million in his budget to help enroll eligible Californians in the expanded program. The expansion will cover low-income residents with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about 1.9 million people. The feds will pay 100 percent of the cost for three years and about 90 percent of the cost thereafter.

Good-bye, Huell: The first few times I watched Huell Howser, I was put off by his cornpone style. But the subject of his California Gold series on public television, the hidden delights of California, drew me in. Over time I came to realize that he was the real deal, a folksy, warm-hearted man who saw the wonder in life and was unabashed about sharing his enthusiasm. I was sad to learn last week that he’d died, just six weeks after retiring, at the age of 67.

Every town has a treasure its residents are proud of, and Howser liked nothing more than to highlight it for others to see. His show on Bidwell Park is a classic. “I’ve never seen such a magnificent municipal park,” he gushed. “This is amazing!” He meant every word.

Huell is gone, but it’s comforting to know that his shows, some 2,000 of them, remain and will continue to be broadcast for years to come.