"Two years ago, I found you with cannabis, you went to jail. Today I see you're just more farmers in our community, like I see at the Farmer's Market with my wife on Saturdays." ~ Mendocino County (CA) Sheriff's Department Sergeant Randy Johnson, addressing permitted cannabis farmers at a 2011 meeting
In TOO HIGH TO FAIL (Gotham Books; August 2012), Fine, an international investigative journalist and author of the acclaimed Farewell, My Subaru, moves his family half way across the country to a place where a small group of resourceful and determined individuals are creating a roadmap for America's economic future.
Cannabis, Fine reminds us, has played an important role in the world's economy since ancient times, having been used in the earliest known fabric and oldest surviving paper, as well as "food, shelter, clothing, baskets, medicine and/or spirituality on every continent except Antarctica."
America's War on Drugs, officially declared by the Nixon administration in 1971, actually has its roots in prohibition era crusaders, and the opposition of competing industries (timber, and chemical and petroleum based synthetics) led by Williams Randolph Hearst and Pierre DuPont. Critics of the War on Drugs, according to Fine, point out how keeping marijuana illegal allows illegitimate growers and distributors to thrive, thus supporting the black market, organized crime and Mexican drug cartels, not to mention costing taxpayers $15.5 billion annually in Drug War financing. Fine takes us along on several raids to show how the constitutionally-questionable war is often fought (AKA how the money is spent), and its strange choices of targets.
Armed with this knowledge, Fine moves to Mendocino to learn firsthand about an agricultural and community template for how such an economy might develop; a place where cannabis has been effectively decriminalized and tightly regulated in order to provide medical marijuana to nearby California residents. It is also proving an indispensable source of financing for the local economy.
After settling his family into their almost-as-romantic-as-it-sounds cabin in the Mendocino hills, Fine immerses himself in the local culture and seeks out the key players in the MendoGrown trade group as well as local law enforcement officials.
Fine also familiarizes himself with the perspective of the law enforcers: the members of the Mendocino Sheriff's department, including Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman himself, a local boy who developed a begrudging respect for the law-abiding farmers and their mission.
Having witnessed first-hand the seriousness, dedication and example set by the Mendocino farmers and the legitimacy of their industry, Fine considers the failed War on Drugs and why several generations of American presidents and politicians, including President Obama, have refused to end it.
Relying on the journalist's tool of "following the money," he spells out how the end to cannabis prohibition is a threat to many influential industries that benefit from the ongoing war: pharmaceuticals, banking, the private prison industry, and the prison guard lobby (not to mention the DEA).
Fine also acknowledges the risks that legalization of cannabis would entail, namely addiction, but suggests that the risks are, judging by the experiences of law enforcement in Mendocino, without doubt less threatening than those of alcohol and prescription drugs. Abuse of the latter is the real epidemic, Sheriff Allman insists, and influential studies are even showing that cannabis can help in a patient's alcoholism or pill addiction battle.
Ultimately, Doug Fine concludes in a narrative the reads like wildly humorous investigative journalism, the benefits of ending the 40-year, trillion-dollar Drug War, particularly the enormous potential such a decision has to revive the American economy and cripple the drug cartels, far outweigh the risks. As Sheriff Allman puts in,
"I was raised to believe these people were ruining our county. Now I think they're helping save it."
About The Author: Doug Fine is an investigative journalist, author and solar-powered New Mexican goat herder. He has reported from five continents for the Washington Post, Wired, Salon, High Times, The New York Times, Outside, NPR, and US News & World Report, and he has a regular column in New Mexico magazine. Fine is the author of two previous books, Not Really an Alaskan Mountain Man and Farewell, My Subaru. A Web site of his work and a short film about Too High to Fail are at www.dougfine.com