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Reefer Madness
‘Too High to Fail,’ by Doug Fine

Illustration by Ben Wiseman
By BILL MAHER
Published: August 3, 2012
“Too High to Fail” is a good rebuttal to those who say stoners never accomplish anything — Doug Fine did. TOO HIGH TO FAIL
Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution
By Doug Fine
Illustrated. 319 pp. Gotham Books. $28.
Related
* Times Topic: Marijuana and Medical Marijuana
He has written a well-researched book that uses the clever tactic of making the moral case for ending marijuana prohibition by burying it inside the economic case. We’ve become a ruthless society, and almost everything (I’m looking at you, Environment and Health Care) has to be sold as “first, it’s good for business.” To his credit, Fine doesn’t do what so many of us do and scream, “Can’t we just stop jailing potheads because that would be the right thing?” Also to his credit, he never admits he’s one of them. The “war on drugs” is America’s longest war. It has cost taxpayers $1 trillion in the last 40 years, Fine notes, and it has turned our nation into “the most highly incarcerated society in history.” In 2011, a global commission on drug policy (whose members included Paul Volcker, George P. Shultz and former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico) declared that “the global war on drugs has failed.” Sixty-seven percent of Americans agree. Antonin Scalia and Pat Robertson are now to the left of President Obama on pot. In a way, the author of a polemic on marijuana policy suffers from the odd case of having too many facts on his side. To a person coming to this subject pot-agnostic, it might seem as if the issue is being loaded. No, it is loaded. As Fine points out, the real addicts of the drug war are the law enforcement agencies that live off this senseless game of cops and robbers. “Too High to Fail” takes the form of a fly-on-the-wall account of Northern California’s burgeoning legal cannabis industry. Fine, an investigative journalist, takes us to Mendocino County, where he follows one plant from seed to medical marijuana patient in the first county in the nation to decriminalize and regulate cannabis farming. Fine fits in well in Mendocino. Bearded and driving his vegetable-oil-fueled truck, he looks and plays the part. But be warned: if you are indifferent to drug culture, you may roll your eyes at some of the stoner talk. When Fine says, describing a Mendocino grow house, “I felt like I was inside a Peter Tosh album cover photo,” even I wanted to tell him he was harshing my mellow. Mendocino County is depicted here as a kind of democratic utopia where local law enforcement and cannabis farmers are on the same side. In 2008, the county passed a land-use ordinance called Chapter 9.31, which authorized growers to cultivate up to 99 cannabis plants (this has since been reduced to 25). Rather than turning the county into a police state, legalization made it safer. Revenues in the municipality increased, and cannabis farmers were treated as law-abiding citizens. Fine calls Mendocino the state’s “progressive lab,” because it was essentially engaging in an act of civil disobedience. It may have been in accordance with California law, but ever since states (17 now, plus the District of Columbia) started legalizing medical marijuana, the federal government under a Democratic (Clinton), then a Republican (Bush) and now a Democratic administration has consistently resisted going along. Consequently, Fine observes, Mendocino has a kind of fifth season: helicopter season. “Helicopter noise is Mendocino County’s summer soundtrack,” he writes of the federal choppers circling overhead. “Something you just have to deal with in warm weather, like the summer before 10th grade when it was ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ ” The most eye-opening and persuasive parts of the book explore the revenue and benefits to be had from cannabis without a single joint’s being lighted. Throughout human history, cultures from Mongolia to Peru have...
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