When I read the autobiography of 20th Century Salvadoran revolutionary leader Miguel Marmol some years ago, one phrase from the book stuck with me. When Marmol talked about the tedious, day-to-day organizing over the long-term to build a revolutionary movement, he called it "trabajo de hormigas," or "ant work." I thought the term was especially apt and evocative, suggesting the unglamorous, but necessary, laying the groundwork for change. I couldnât help but think of the phrase again over the weekend as I read a story by San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Mike Lee about marijuana growing in the national forests in California. "Forest Pot Farms A Menace to the Land," was the title of the story, and it is the latest published version of a now familiar trope: Those darned marijuana growers are wrecking our national forests with their weed crops.
âThe whole process of these marijuana plantations brutalizes the landscape,â said David Graber, Pacific West regional science chief for the National Park Service. The outdoor growing season for marijuana is coming to a close for the year, but some scars left by clandestine pot farms will take months to heal. Anti-drug agencies must deal with tons of trash, human waste, erosion and other forms of soil disturbance, loss of vegetation and chemical pollution that kills marine life. The illegal plots also increase poaching of wildlife, raise the threat of wildfires started accidentally at campsites and put outdoor enthusiasts in harm's way. For instance, the U.S. Forest Service recently warned deer hunters to avoid two areas in Mendocino and Glenn counties until authorities could evict the marijuana growers. Marijuana production on public lands in the United States has risen as the nation moves to further secure its borders and slow the movement of marijuana from Mexico. Mexican organized crime is behind the surge in such illegal plantings, according to law enforcement agencies. Growers favor public property partly because if their plants are discovered, they can flee without leaving behind traceable evidence. But there are other reasons for the popularity of forests and parks. âThe nation's public lands have become a haven for this illegal activity due to the relatively few law enforcement personnel and the vast and often remote tracks of sparsely or uninhabited lands,â said the U.S. Forest Service's 2005 marijuana report.Lee talked to only National Forest and law enforcement sources, and even included a quote from drug czar John Walters, but failed to note the fundamental fact that is driving marijuana growers into the national forests: Marijuana prohibition. So I wrote him a letter:
Dear Mr. Lee: Interesting report on the damage done by illegal pot farming, although Iâve seen numerous variations of it before. But like most similar reports, your story begs a rather large question: Why are people growing pot in the forests in the first place? You alluded to increased border enforcement and a law enforcement learning curve, but again, thatâs begging the question. Could it be because marijuana is ILLEGAL? Asking that questions sort of shifts oneâs whole perspective: From the point of view of people who do not support marijuana prohibitionâlike me and nearly half of Californians, according to national pollsâthe environmental damage you describe is yet another unfortunate, unintended consequence of marijuana prohibition. When you write this story next year, I would respectfully suggest you include that perspective. I would be happy to provide you with contact information for California-based marijuana reform activists who are very informed and articulate on this issue. Thanks for your time. Phillip Smith Drug War Chronicle www.stopthedrugwar.orgTo which Lee replied:
Phil... thanks for your comments... i'd suggest you consider writing a letter to the editor. Regards, mleeNow, did I sway Mr. Lee? He gave no direct indication of that in his brief reply, but at least I was able to put the whole marijuana prohibition issue before him. He has been informed that at least one reader thinks he is missing part of the story. I guess we'll have to wait until next year, when he writes next year's version of this annual story. But in the meantime, the ants are working.
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