May 24, 2019

Hovering over the issue

The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency raids in Washington County have produced as much protest as pot this year. People understandably upset by low-flying helicopters clattering over their homes want some assurance that these intrusions are necessary. So far, however, all they have heard is a lot of noise.

The conflict between the law-enforcement agency and those disturbed by the sweeps has escalated and will continue to do so for two reasons: The MDEA is not entirely honest about its reasons for the raids; and organized groups hoping to stop the raids and eventually have marijuana legalized are not models of honesty either. Under these conditions, conflict is inevitable.

The MDEA reports that it carries out its raids because possession of marijuana is illegal, and until the Legislature changes the law it has no choice but to continue its missions. This, of course, is laughable. Every sensible government bureau, agency, department, commission or what have you creates a priority list of its duties, pays the most attention to the top of its list and gets to the bottom when there is time.

Surely, with the heroin and cocaine in the state, pot does not deserve the attention it gets from the MDEA based on its danger to Maine citizens. So what drives the marijuana sweeps? Great equipment. A tip from a neighbor and the National Guard helicopters take off, the squad cars zoom, walkie-talkies squawk and everyone gets to converge on the villainous pot plant. The press abets this craziness by announcing farcically inflated street values for the plants captured.

The equipment-driven policy has angered Rep. George Townsend of Eastport, who plans to introduce legislation that would ground the helicopters. In the war on drugs, too often the battle line is drawn by law-enforcement officers between themselves and the community they have pledged to protect.

On the other side, marijuana defenders lie. If not lie, exactly, then deflect attention from the truth. They will argue about the marvelous benefits the United States could accrue if it were to treat marijuana plants as a crop for its industrial-strength fibers, as a source of medicine, a supply of oil for energy and so on. The arguments all are provably true, but they aren’t the point.

Pot growers champion marijuana, and not some other important but underutilized crop — say, soybeans — because one can smoke or ingest marijuana and get high. They would like it treated the same way people treat the gin-and-tonic or the beer millions reach for on a Friday night after a long week of work. (Pot fans like to mention here that alcohol, like tobacco, is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths a year, while marijuana never killed anyone. Also probably true and also not the point.)

Pro-pot groups need to quit their agri-business sales pitch if they ever expect the state to seriously address their cause. The more immediate question, however, resides on the other side of the issue: whether the MDEA is going to keep pot sweeps in perspective or treat them, as one Washington County resident observed, like Operation Coastal Storm.

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