End pot prohibition

Prop 215 isn’t to blame for the recent violence involving medical marijuana

It’s harvest time for marijuana growers, which means it’s also the time when patch pirates are busy ripping off local gardens. The result is heightened tension and the possibility of violence, as recent back-to-back incidents in Chico demonstrate.

They both involved a West Lindo Avenue resident who, awakened from sleep last week by thieves stealing his medical marijuana, rushed naked into the back yard and was shot at. The next night somebody else tried to steal his pot, and this time he did the shooting, driving them away.

His neighbors were disturbed to hear gunshots in the middle of the night and to learn of the violence. Who can blame them? That the plants were legal means nothing to them.

Before Proposition 215 passed in 1996, backyard gardens were relatively rare. Besides being illegal, they were hard to conceal from neighbors. Now, of course, they’re legal for up to six plants with a doctor’s recommendation. But a well-tended plant can produce a pound of pot or more, with a street value of anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000—a tempting target for thieves.

Some people are suggesting Prop 215 needs to be reformed—that it’s being abused by profiteers, that six plants is too many, that it’s too easy to get a doctor’s recommendation, that it’s inviting violence into peaceful neighborhoods.

But the real issue here isn’t the voter-approved measure to relieve the suffering of sick people. Proposition 215 would work fine if marijuana weren’t so valuable and thieves weren’t tempted to steal it. And the reason it’s valuable is because, for everyone except med-pot users, it’s illegal.

All kinds of growers and dealers are making major money providing millions of pot smokers with their herb. They can charge high prices because of the legal risk involved. And as long as there is so much money to be made, law enforcement will never stop the growing or the trading. Anybody who wants to obtain marijuana can do so.

Prohibition of marijuana has the same consequences that prohibition of alcohol had in the 1930s—illegal trafficking, gangsterism and violence—and serves no useful purpose. As drugs go, pot is relatively innocuous compared to, say, methamphetamine. If it were decriminalized, its value would plunge, innocent medical-marijuana users wouldn’t have to worry about thieves, and neighborhoods wouldn’t be disrupted by violence. In addition, police would be freed up to deal with the really dangerous drugs like meth.

It’s not Prop 215 that needs reform; it’s the laws prohibiting marijuana use.