The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has uncovered the ultimate 21st century crime ring — a large-scale international marijuana cultivation operation in quiet neighborhoods in Tracy and other West Coast and Canadian suburbs.
The four pot-growing houses searched and seized by local law enforcement, and the five people they arrested since October, reportedly are part of an Asian organized crime syndicate operating in the U.S. and Canada. And to think that some of us initially assumed that the harvested marijuana was for personal use or being sold for medicinal purposes.
What have we been smoking Flower parties of the ’60s have evolved into Mafia partnerships of the 21st century under that smoky haze. Chinese Tony Sopranos are pushing dime bags on our campuses and street corners.
Tracy is the tip of the reefer iceberg. DEA officials estimate there are 21,000 pot-growing houses in the U.S. and Canada. And this isn’t a lone cannabis bush hidden in the master bedroom. In the 50 pot-growing homes raided in Northern California since August, 24,000 pounds of marijuana were seized. The number of indoor marijuana plants seized by federal, state and local authorities just in California last year was nearly 200,000, quadrupling the 54,000 plants taken in 2003.
Since local, state and federal authorities are finding and destroying more outdoor marijuana farms, even those tucked away on government property, organized crime has resorted to the indoor groves in newly built homes. Ah, the American Dream: four bedrooms, 2½ baths, a three-car garage and 2,100 square feet of plant space.
Before all of American suburbia and exurbia goes to pot, we whimsically suggest our government switch tactics. Get into the control business. Force pot growers to license their product. Establish strict regulations on growing, processing, packaging and distribution of the product. Grade the quality. Restrict the marketing to consumers through licensed suppliers at state stores with sales that are taxed. Make selling and using pot illegal for minors and anyone operating machinery. Require customers to be licensed users who pay annual fees for the opportunity to buy the product at government-established prices.
The best way to kill any business, even those taken over by organized crime, is with the heavy hand of government regulation of the free market, not law enforcement that effectively pushes the business underground — or, in the case of marijuana growing, into our quaint and unsuspecting neighborhoods.