Not since the movie "Reefer Madness," with its absurdly exaggerated fear-mongering about marijuana, has the War on Drugs offered such a belly laugh. Now, courtesy of Florida's new drug czar comes "Killer Fungus Touted to Eradicate State Pot Crop!"
Fresh from Washington, D.C., Jim McDonough is putting down roots in Tallahassee. This pusher of fungal fatuity is lobbying to introduce an invasive plant, a "mycoherbicide," to Florida. When the idea was challenged, McDonough wrote a memo blasting the state-employed scientists who caution against any such fungus fiasco.
Stuffily, he declaimed: "Before we conclude that it cannot be done, let us take every opportunity to consider how it might be done safely."
No matter that "the fungus could mutate, spread and kill off everything from tomatoes to endangered plants," as scientists at the state Department of Environmental Protection fear.
No matter that Florida already suffers from melaleuca run amok, an infestation begun when the government seeded the Everglades with the Australian tree in an attempt to help drain the swamp. Or that King-Konh kudzu, imported from China to control erosion, is covering Georgia and North Florida in a suffocating green shroud.
No matter that, according to the Audubon Society, "On public lands, an estimated 4,600 acres of native wildlife habitat are lost daily to alien plants with no natural enemies."
No matter that the federal government last month began regulating the discharge of ballast water from cargo ships entering all U.S. ports, fearing the environmental havoc created by the introduction of foreign species.
How far the drug czar lags behind the times. A killer fungus might have earned consideration in, say, the 1950s and 1960s, when technology seemed to be the answer to everything. That was during the era when "The Day of the Triffids," by John Wyndham, was published. The science-fiction classic forecast the balance of power shifting from humans to the plant kingdom. Ghastly stinging plants that walk are the byproduct of government engineering undertaken in the name of national defense and capitalist supremacy.
In our post-"Triffid" world, we know way too much to even consider fungal frivolity. We know the potential of an alien plant to spread quickly, to crowd out native species, to disrupt fragile balances in nature.
Not even the most accomplished scientists in the field completely understand the interactions between fungi in the soil and the roots of plants they infect. Scientists do know that, by having a biological killer attack pot plants, we might force the cannabis to evolve strong defenses. How easy it would be to lose control of the fungus.
Thoughtful people all over America and across the political spectrum, from civil libertarians to chiefs of police, question the drug war, a colossal and expensive failure that has halted neither drug import nor drug use. Its continuation is "sucking positive energy out of America, exaggerating economic polarization, harming race relations, public health, our justice system, and our cities," according to Efficacy, a Connecticut-based nonprofit organization advocating peaceful ways to respond to social problems.
Drugs are not a new phenomenon. Opiates were common in Europe. Tea from potent poppy plants was a staple in parts of Asia. The American Indians used tobacco and peyote sparingly, without the plague of abuse, in spiritual rituals. For most of human history, even when ready access to potent drugs existed, societies have regulated their use without fear-based policies. As America's own failed Prohibition proves, drugs (including alcohol) pose the worst problems when they are outlawed.
Florida's marijuana growers are as inventive as the plant is hardy. Just 30 years ago imported pot was the cannabis of choice, with home-grown varieties filling in only in a pinch. Government interdiction created an inconvenience for potheads, who in a burst of innovation created a superior domestic crop. Surely they will get around any new fungus problem. A quick search of the Internet shows detailed fungus-fighting data already available.
Indoor gardening, for instance, is an option. Thirty years of experience have allowed cultivators to perfect techniques in settings that range from rural barns to city office buildings, even attics. A worker doesn't even need to be on site to take advantage of a warehouse's lighting to cultivate an indoor crop impossible to trace to its grower.
In Florida, small-time growers and police even seem to enjoy a little cat-and-mouse. I know of an instance where one of those lost-in-the-'60s types planted a pot plant in the woods. One day when the happy farmer showed up to tend his plants, he found them uprooted. Left for him to find was the local narcotics agent's business card.
If this were 1950, the time of birth for many Baby Boomers, a "hooch-icide" scheme would be frightening. Some government official might actually approve a plan to tamper with the environment, daring the gods to hit us all with the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Today the concept is funny.