By Rosalie Cushman | Published in Ah-Ha Rancho Santa Fe News “Peter said some FBI agent was paid off by the Cartel…” I couldn’t hear the rest of this woman’s phone conversation because she turned her head, walking away from the Encinitas Laundromat. This was about a year ago. Fast forward to a more recent conversation I had with Steve Downing, Deputy Chief, LAPD (ret.) in which he told me that the drug Cartels are “present” in approximately 1,000 cities. That’s U.S., not Mexico! The Justice Department projected Cartel presence in 700 cities about 3 years ago, so they have definitely acquired more territory on the U.S. game board since then. So I asked Mr. Downing, “I don’t get it. Why collude with them? What is in it for the U.S. government and businesses to keep marijuana illegal?” He simply took his hand and rubbed his fingers together, whispering, ‘money’. Between the feds pouring millions of dollars into police departments to arrest drug users and low level street sellers, the prison industrial complex and rehab businesses, not to mention the pharmaceuticals who want us to buy Vicodin, there is too much vested interest in preserving the status quo, that colludes to keep marijuana illegal. Forget about whether there’s medicinal value and a miss-information campaign, as Dr. Sanjay Gupta so bravely exposed recently, which has created a veritable firestorm from his CNN documentary, “Weed”. Researchers both within the U.S. but many more outside it, have known for decades of marijuana’s efficacy for medicinal use, though not always through smoking. And you can forget about the Schedule I drug (mis) classification by the government, which is patently absurd. From the get-go, it has been incorrectly classified. Sadly, it seems a major reason to keep marijuana a Schedule I drug from the government’s unofficial point of view is A) money and B) it’s just “too hard” to negotiate with the complex constituent interests that want to keep it that way. An additional factor is the likely cultural transformation that would be required to make it legal for both medicinal and recreational use by the feds. After all, they’d have to come clean with the non-integrous platform that has kept it falsely in place for so many years. Now, I’m not suggesting that government officials, business constituents and Cartels all get together in a back room somewhere to collude formally to keep it both “on the streets” but illegal and miss-classified, although a few might. Mostly, they are colluding functionally. What’s worse is that that functionality has become institutionalized! Eric Holder has, in the last few days suggested ‘softening’ the sentences for small time drug offenders to concentrate on the big fish. This is a smoke screen for a palliative response to the problem at best, although still a welcomed effort. It’s stunning it has taken the Justice Department over 5 years to come to this conclusion. In no way does it honestly confront the larger issues, however. Clearly the administration has caught the whiff of change on legalization and wants to appear to address it. Still, it may be a small crack and, as such, is an important and valuable beginning. The bigger issues would include (but not be limited to) rescheduling the marijuana classification, permitting/encouraging U.S. farmers to grow the agricultural product, for it to be quality-controlled, to be taxed, while also creating a revenue stream once it’s subject to legal distribution. All these things could be accomplished in ways similar to alcohol and other drugs, thereby creating a more sane response. It would also cut out the Cartels, at list for this product, which is the largest “illegal” drug imported to the U.S. Some argue that marijuana can cause addiction and that it is a gateway drug to harder stuff. This is primarily true for addictive personalities, not due to the chemical make-up of marijuana itself. In fact, it is no more a gateway drug to heroin than aspirin is to Vicodin. One doesn’t cause the other. Instead, an addictive mindset does, among other biochemical concerns within an individual’s biological makeup. Clearly, too many Americans do have a problem with addiction of all kinds. And of course there is a different between use and abuse. A recent study released concluded that more people are overdosing and dying from drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin and other Opioids than ever before, particularly women. In fact, as Gupta so wisely confirmed, alcohol also has a greater addictive element to it, which contributes to deaths in the U.S. In contrast, there are no documented reports of anyone dying from marijuana. Sadly, as a nation we have become quite skilled in both our addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs and our denial skills. Dr. Gupta has demonstrated this in spades, exposing his own soft underbelly of gullibility for too many years, though willing to acknowledge it now. Clearly, it takes some courage for him to ‘go public’ and change his mind about the efficacy of marijuana for medical use at least, even if not yet for recreational use. I have to give the guy credit. At their core, aren’t all the legalize marijuana movements about changing peoples’ minds anyway? Of course the corruption problem in America, working hand in glove with the denial problem as evidenced by the woman’s statement mentioned above also hints at the institutionalization problem. I’m not suggesting all FBI, DEA, and law enforcement are corrupt; far from it. What I am saying is enough of them may be, reinforcing the institutionalization quotient that keeps marijuana from becoming legal. One of the more painful aspects keeping this dissonance between the Schedule I classification and state’s rights ability to legalize it is the human carnage that occurs when small time peddlers and/or users are arrested and sentenced to ridiculous jail sentences due to ‘enforcement’ of federal law. It is not just the carnage inflicted through violence and corruption in the 1,000 American cities, though that is clearly tearing at the fabric of this county. Just as bad is the carnage that devastates people’s lives due to inappropriate arrests and incarcerations. On a somewhat lighter note, the Huffington Post, in its article about Dr. Gupta’s documentary, had a side bar of all the people “more evolved than Obama” on the marijuana topic — from Bill Clinton to Pat Robertson to Michael Bloomberg, former governor Gary Johnson, former president Jimmy Carter, to Glenn Beck! There are dozens more across a wide spectrum of political, social and religious society. The issue truly does make strange bedfellows but oddly, Obama and, by extension, Eric Holder, aren’t among them, although there does seem to be some promise in Holder’s recent “softening.” Then there’s Mexico: their middle class is growing and we should continue supporting that process through international development. So much has been in the news in the last decade about the Cartel violence in the country, spilling across the border, killing people on both sides. The Cartels have become entrenched in Mexico, in part, due to historic economic disparity, seducing young people with cash when few jobs were available although that may be changing a bit. As a freelance writer, I spent some time covering shelter companies in northern and central Mexico who provided infrastructure, tax and human service support for internationals to build cars, plane parts, electronics, washing machines; all kinds of products. That puts people to work, boosting Mexico’s standard of living and economy, which benefits both sides of the border. This leads to fewer young people for the Cartels to corrupt and kill, not to mention, generates a more robust Mexican middle class that provides some deterrent to illegal immigration into the U.S. as a consequence. So in the end, I recognize there are many complex layers to the whole marijuana legalization dilemma. A part of me feels some measure of compassion for Obama, Holder and the “colluders” at all levels. They are clearly in over their collective heads, although that hardly eliminates the problem, nor does it get them off the hook. After all, they’ve perpetuated a falsehood, even though it’s one they inherited. At the end of the day, if the marijuana legality-illegality issue doesn’t get resolved through some honest and realistic solutions, the Cartels will be in 2,000, then 4,000 U.S. cities. And we will be forfeiting tax revenue from growing and selling an agricultural product that the drug lords are managing themselves, and instead perpetuating denial mechanisms in America, which will certainly be to our peril. This article was originally featured on the Aug. 14 online edition of Ah-Ha Rancho Santa Fe News, a digital news service based in north San Diego County.