busted: america's war on marijuana
Tapes & Transcripts

Show #1615
Air date: April 28, 1998
Busted: America's War on Marijuana

Written and Produced by Elena Mannes

INDIANA ARCHITECT: My concept of the penalties, the whole time I was involved with growing marijuana, was, you know, "Gosh, I could get caught and spend a year in prison." I mean, we were particularly naive about what the final result could be. [Busted - Federal sentence: 20 years]

CRAIG RALSTIN, Indiana State Police: There are people that are growing it for money, but they're criminals just like any other criminal.

WILL FOSTER: I lived a pretty decent life. I worked every day. I paid my taxes. You know, I didn't go out and hurt nobody. I didn't rob nobody. I didn't know that cultivation carried 2 to life, no. [Busted - State sentence: 93 years]

ANDREA STRONG: They said, "Well he can't have bond. He's facing a life sentence." And my mom says, "Well who did he kill?" You know, "Did he rape somebody? Did he molest some child? What did he do?" He was accused of being the middleman in a marijuana conspiracy. He connected the buyer and the grower. [Busted - Life sentence, Leavenworth]

STEVE WHITE: I think it's a dangerous drug. I don't think it does any good, period.

1st DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: Chimney on this house here. You can see a little bit of heat coming out of it, a little animal standing there in the back yard.

NARRATOR: In the night sky over Indianapolis, the hunt is on: drug enforcement agents scanning a neighborhood for evidence of marijuana.


1st DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: That don't look quite right. Yeah, a patio, patio door, window. Window's been covered over. Looks a little odd.

NARRATOR: The infrared camera could reveal a marijuana-growing operation inside any one of these houses. Infrared detects heat, which can indicate a "grow room" using a lot of lights.

2nd DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: The foundation certainly is warm.

1st DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: That's what I was going to say. That foundation's hotter than fire.


1st DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: That's the only thing I see real unusual.

NARRATOR: This kind of marijuana search is happening all over America. The war on marijuana has become a battle fought not only overseas, but on home turf.

3rd DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: We've got a search warrant. The targets are two white males-

STEVE WHITE: This is a law-and-order part of the country. Law enforcement's held in probably higher esteem here than any place I've ever been.

NARRATOR: For many years, Steve White ran Indiana's war on marijuana as an agent with the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA is spending over $13 million a year to fund state cannabis eradication programs.

STEVE WHITE: We were one of the first 20 states to do it, and there hadn't been an organized effort, I don't think, against marijuana in the U.S. since the late 1930s.

NARRATOR: White recently retired from active duty with the DEA and now teaches undercover police techniques. He went along with us on a typical arrest to show us the world of marijuana law enforcement.

1st DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: Search warrant! Please open the door.

2nd DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: I'll get this side door here.

1st DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: Police! Search warrant!

2nd DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be [unintelligible] for you. You understand you're under arrest?

SUSPECT: Yes, sir.

NARRATOR: For this arrest in Bloomington, Indiana, an informant had tipped agents off to an indoor marijuana grow room. It was allegedly run by a business school student and his roommate in the back of their house.

STEVE WHITE: This is their growing room, and the first thing that you can see on these plants is that they've been topped, or the flowering tops, in other words, have been pruned off the colis of the plant. This is fairly typical. They've got three lights here, the smaller plants over there, larger ones coming up here.

I think a lot of people that grow actually grow so that they don't have to go out and buy dope. But the down side and reverse side of that is, some time along the line, they say, "Gee, I've spent this much on equipment and this much on fertilizer. Why don't I grow a little more and sell it and pay for that?" And then that's when they come into my clutches.

[to suspect] Would you hazard a guess as to what a pound of that stuff would be worth on the market?

SUSPECT: I wouldn't know.

STEVE WHITE: If I said $2,000 to $5,000, could that be in the range?

SUSPECT: That would be about right, I guess- guessing.

NARRATOR: This suspect was one of about 3,000 people arrested for marijuana offenses in Indiana last year. The state's cannabis eradication program now makes more marijuana arrests than any state in the nation. During the summer and early fall, when the corn is high, the drug enforcement team heads out to make its own harvest.

DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: I think we may have some [unintelligible] marijuana plants back in the center of this cornfield.

NARRATOR: Any one of these corn rows may hide thousands of dollars worth of marijuana.

CRAIG RALSTIN, Indiana State Police: I've been spotting marijuana as a pilot with the state police for about 19 years. I think it's one of the most important jobs that we could be doing because I know what the effect of the marijuana is on our young people in our society.

NARRATOR: An estimated 10 to 30 million Americans use marijuana, and as much half of all the marijuana used in America is now home grown.

CRAIG RALSTIN: We'll use fixed-wings and helicopters and trained spotters, and we'll find where people are either preparing their grows or suspicious areas that look like somebody's cut an area out of a field. And once we find the plant from the air, we'll direct our ground guys, and they'll go back in and either cut it or pull the plants out.

That's a pretty nice plant.


CRAIG RALSTIN: You can see the growers started this one indoors some place in a cup, and brought them and transplanted them back out here. That's kind of the thing that we run into. We're always trying to keep up with the growers and try to get them before they get them out.

DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: Are these your fields here?

MAN: Right. Yes.

DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: Okay, we got some marijuana out of this one and this one, both.

ARMY OFFICER: He contacted me.

DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: Okay. Okay, good enough.

ARMY OFFICER: He's the one that told me.

WOMAN: You know, it really makes me mad that people can come into your field and do that, you know, and they don't have to do any work.

MAN: And they make more money, you know, than I will-

WOMAN: They pull out your corn plants.

MAN: -for the whole crop, you know? But the cows ate it all last time, except one plant.

MIKE GAYER, Indiana State Police: Unfortunately, every day that we fly, we find cultivated marijuana. There is not a day that goes by that we go out in this aircraft that we do not find cultivated marijuana plants. There's that much in the state of Indiana.

RALPH WEISHEIT: "The marijuana basket of America" would probably be a good description of the central part of the U.S. Marijuana is grown in every state of the U.S., so it is a national phenomenon, but it seems particularly prevalent in the Midwest.

NARRATOR: Ralph Weisheit, a professor of criminal justice at Illinois State University, has done extensive research on the domestic marijuana industry.

RALPH WEISHEIT: We have to make guesses about how much marijuana is growing because it is an illegal crop, but it is easily the biggest cash crop. Some people have said it goes into the billions. The value is far higher, probably double the value of corn. You also have in the Midwest a fair amount of marijuana that's already growing wild that was planted during the Second World War.

NARRATOR: The federal government actually gave farmers the seeds because hemp from the marijuana plant was needed to make rope after supplies from Asia were cut off.

MIKE GAYER, Indiana State Police: It was good in the '40s. It's bad in the '90s.

DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENT: The government paid them to grow it, and now the government is paying us to take it away.

RALPH WEISHEIT: Certainly, of all the illegal drugs, there's been no drug about which the government has had more mixed feelings. Marijuana has had a somewhat different role than other drugs. It has had a mystical sort of atmosphere about it for some and it's been the embodiment of evil for others.

1st WOMAN: It doesn't do anything good for you.

1st MAN: It's very bad for you.

2nd MAN: It's a mild relaxant.

3rd MAN: This is a nice drug. It doesn't have a hangover. You don't become aggressive and belligerent.

4th MAN: It is dangerous.

2nd WOMAN: Changes your mind.

5th MAN: It affects short-term memory.

3rd WOMAN: Paranoia.

6th MAN: Killing brain cells.

4th WOMAN: There's a reason why it's illegal.

7th MAN: I'm not sure I understand how you make a plant illegal.

RALPH WEISHEIT: I find that some law enforcement officials believe it is a drug, and a drug is a drug, and so harsh penalties should go with that, if we have harsh penalties for other drugs. I have found others who see marijuana as completely different from cocaine or heroin, and really believe that we've gone far too far along in our handling of the drug through the criminal process.

NARRATOR: More Americans use marijuana than all other illegal drugs combined and are spending an estimated $7 billion a year to buy it on the black market. It's believed that more than two million Americans grow marijuana themselves, either for personal use or to sell it.

NARRATOR: ["Sea of Green" video] Hello, and welcome to the Sea of Green. Follow the simple instructions and soon you will begin your harvest.

NARRATOR: Lessons on how to set up a grow room are readily available on videotape and in magazines. "High Times," founded in 1974, now has a circulation of a quarter million readers. Even the Internet has marijuana Web sites with discussion about softening the laws and the experience of other countries with decriminalization.

The mass media treats marijuana with a mixture of alarm and laughter.

1st ACTOR: ["Home Improvement"] It's not oregano.

2nd ACTOR: Tarragon?

1st ACTOR: This is marijuana.

2nd ACTOR: Jill cooks with marijuana?

NARRATOR: Popular culture sends a mixed message, and for many marijuana growers, the temptation to defy the law seems to outweigh the risk of arrest. Doug Keenan, who lives in a quiet middle-class neighborhood of Indianapolis, was even willing to go public and show us his grow room, dug deep underground so the infrared cameras won't detect it.

DOUG KEENAN: The humming that you hear is the ballast, which is driving the light here. Most all of this equipment can be bought at any hardware store. Once you've decided that you're going to be consuming it pretty regularly, then you come up with, "Well, I'm going to need a steady supply." Simple reason is you've got something that's priced more than gold. If you're going to smoke a lot of it, you can't afford to buy it out on the black market.

NARRATOR: Over the last two decades, the potency of marijuana on the market has increased and the price has skyrocketed. In the early 1980s, an ounce of commercial grade sold for about $40. Today an ounce costs up to $400- in fact, a price higher than gold, which now sells for around $300 dollars an ounce.

DOUG KEENAN: I will be growing as long as I am free to do so- "free" being that nobody's put a ball and chain around my ankle. You have to realize that your liberty is at risk every minute of every day.

NARRATOR: So why go public and take the chance of arrest?

DOUG KEENAN: It's a delicate trade-off, but in my mind- you know, a lot of people have asked me why be an activist at all. The alternative is, if I don't, you're going to have a police state in another 30 years. And this is basically a right of consumption. I have the right to grow and consume anything that God gives me the seed and the ground to grow it in.

NARRATOR: So far, Keenan's grow room has escaped detection by Indiana's drug enforcement team. But often, growers who think they're operating free and clear for years are actually the targets of long investigations that do end in arrest.

INDIANA ARCHITECT: I got a 20-year prison sentence and I was just totally devastated. I think we were all particularly naive about what the final result could be.

NARRATOR: This Indiana architect and his brother, an attorney, used this farm to grow large amounts of marijuana, which they sold commercially. They were arrested by Steve White after a five-year investigation.

STEVE WHITE: The farmer that owned this property had run into some financial difficulties. And he was a client of the attorney, and when the attorney's brother called him and wanted to expand the operation, this came to mind.

NARRATOR: The architect doesn't want his identity revealed.

INDIANA ARCHITECT: The farmer didn't hesitate at all. He had very few alternatives to be able to make the money that was going to be needed to save his farm. And this was in the early '80s, when all the farms in America were really in a big financial crisis. We grew there for a couple of years, and the first year we grew 50 pounds, and at that time it was worth about $100,000.

STEVE WHITE: They were the all-American boys. They loved their children. They loved their parents. So, you know, how do I characterize them? Smart. Nice. They broke the law. And they knew better. The people of Indiana will not tolerate this type of behavior. Why should we say it's okay for a guy to make a million dollars raising marijuana? Marijuana's the threshold drug. It's the drug that most children, kids start out with.

NARRATOR: In a community like Warsaw, Indiana, marijuana is not only growing in the cornfields, it's being traded in the halls of the high school.

1st GIRL: You can see when people's doing it at school, the smell of it at school.

INTERVIEWER: You can smell it at school?

1st GIRL: Oh, yeah. Some people do it in the bathroom.

1st BOY: The bathroom's bad.

1st GIRL: We just got caught, like, two weeks ago. There was, like, five girls that got caught doing it.

2nd GIRL: That was, like, the second week of school.

3rd GIRL: You can't hide it. I mean, you see somebody walking up and down the street, all you have to do is ask them and they can give it to you. They'll sell it right there to you, on the spot.

INTERVIEWER: All of you know somebody you could go probably call right now?

STUDENTS: Yeah. Yeah.

2nd BOY: The guys- well, if you don't do it, they call you wimps and all kinds of things, and just try to put you down and get you to do it and finally snap.

PAUL CROUSORE, Principal, Warsaw High School: We had indicators that we're having problem with drugs in the building. We had a drug sweep back a few years ago, where we actually had the police come in and dogs and we searched, and we arrested 17 students.

NARRATOR: The Warsaw high school has begun testing its athletes for drugs. A student who tests positive for marijuana is suspended from competition for a year.

DAVE FULKERSON, Athletic Director, Warsaw High School: The kids have to realize there are rules that they must go by. And that's- you know, our society is made up of rules. The one thing that the general public fails to realize, that it's in violation of the law. It's against the state law. You can be arrested. You can be sent to jail.

2nd BOY: If they get caught, they go on probation. Even when they're on probation- I had a friend and- they break probation.

1st GIRL: Sometimes when people get caught, they finally realize that they're doing something wrong and they quit. But then, on the other hand, there's some people that are just, like, "Oh, that's okay. I'll just go out and- once I get free I'll go out and do it again."

NARRATOR: Many drug counselors consider marijuana to be a gateway drug that could lead to the use of harder drugs.

BRET RICHARDSON: [to class] Name one of the gateway drugs. Joe?

1st PUPIL: Marijuana.

BRET RICHARDSON: Marijuana. Give me another one. Caitlin?

2nd PUPIL: Beer, wine.

NARRATOR: Lee Ann Richardson and her husband, Bret, of the Warsaw, Indiana Police Department, work for the D.A.R.E. program - Drug Abuse Resistance Education. D.A.R.E. uses local police officers to teach drug education in the schools.

3rd PUPIL: Hi, Caitlin. Would you like to have some marijuana with me?

2nd PUPIL: No.

3rd PUPIL: How come?

2nd PUPIL: It'll make me sick. Oh, I've got to go work on that homework.

3rd PUPIL: Fine.

BRET RICHARDSON: Cut. Well done! But what if they say, "Why not?" What if they start to tease you? Think about three reasons why you don't want to use drugs.

1st BOY: I really didn't know much about marijuana. I didn't know what harmful effects it can do on your life and stuff like that. I mean, it's really nice to know now. And I made the decision not to do marijuana or any drug.

2nd BOY: It just- like, it can hurt you, and it kills you and stuff if you do too much of it.

GIRL: Well before I- before Officer Richardson came in this year, I was, like, "What's so wrong about it? It just grows." But now I know what the harmful effects are and I know that I will never, ever do it.

NARRATOR: The actual effects of marijuana on people who use it have been the subject of scientific study, but the results have not served to settle the debate about its dangers.

Dr. CHARLES SCHUSTER: Marijuana has very profound affects, particularly when it's smoked, and the most important thing about it is that it's immediate.

NARRATOR: Dr. Charles Schuster, a psychopharmacologist at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, also headed the National Institute of Drug Abuse during the drug crackdown in the 1980s. He's been researching marijuana for more than 30 years.

Dr. CHARLES SCHUSTER: It's a powerful drug and it has powerful effects on mood, powerful effects on your ability to perform skilled activities, powerful effects on cognition and powerful effects on your heart- huge increases in heart rate, for example, when you smoke it. It's a powerful drug and we can't dismiss that.

There are many differences between heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, on the other hand. Number one, marijuana, unlike heroin and cocaine, has never been associated with acute overdosage death. To the best of my knowledge, no one has died because they've smoked too much marijuana. Clearly, people die from overdoses of cocaine and of heroin.

Number two, I think that although marijuana can produce dependence and addiction, the likelihood of that occurring in people is much less than with drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

When we think about social policies and a lot of other things, we have to realize that the public health dangers associated with illicit drugs depends upon the illicit drug we're talking about. With marijuana, I think that we're talking about a lesser evil than we are when we're talking about cocaine and heroin, but that doesn't mean that it isn't an evil. [www.pbs.org: More on marijuana in the body]

Dr. DAVID MUSTO: Marijuana's an excellent example of how we have shifted our views on a substance. You have these enormous shifts and, really, research takes place against these larger attitudes, and it's also interpreted in these larger attitudes.

NARRATOR: Dr. David Musto, of Yale University, has devoted years of study to the history of America's drug policies and attitudes toward marijuana in particular.

Dr. DAVID MUSTO: Marijuana started to come into the United States in the 1920s, along with Mexican immigrants. Then, in the 1930s, when the Great Depression hit, these people became a feared surplus in our country, and they were thought to take marijuana, go into town on the weekend and create mayhem. Now, that's very close to the general attitude toward marijuana in the 1930s. It was thought to be a cause of crime and a cause of senseless violence.

The head of the narcotics bureau from 1930 to 1962, Harry J. Anslinger, decided he had to fight marijuana really in the media. He tried to describe marijuana in so repulsive and terrible terms that people wouldn't even be tempted to try it. In the 1960s, the use of marijuana was symbolic of the counterculture, of the anti-Vietnam war battles. It became something that, if you used, you used it almost ritually, as joining a large group of people who had similar points of view and similar attitudes, let's say, to authority and to the government and so on.

NARRATOR: In the early 1970s, the Shafer Commission was ordered by Congress to consider marijuana and the drug abuse laws.

Dr. DAVID MUSTO: They came out with the conclusion that marijuana should be decriminalized. That is, small amounts for personal use might be fined, like you might get a ticket. And this was very upsetting to President Nixon. President Nixon, I think, of all of our Presidents was the one most viscerally opposed to drugs.

Then in the Carter Administration, I think it was in 1978, all the heads of the agencies came before Congress and asked for the decriminalization of marijuana of up to one ounce. And it was quite interesting. There was quite a backlash to this. You had the parents' movement formed.

PARENT: -that if I became involved and other parents became involved now maybe this problem would not touch- that the evil fingers of drugs would not lay their hands on the shoulders of my little boy.

Dr. DAVID MUSTO: And they created quite a reaction and defeated some people who were running for Congress and had favored decriminalization. So you move right from the Carter administration into the Reagan administration, which was very anti-drug and anti-marijuana.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: The American people want their government to get tough and to go on the offensive, and that's exactly what we intend, with more ferocity than ever before.

Dr. DAVID MUSTO: The Republicans and Democrats, seeing this as a tremendous, dangerous issue, vied with one another as to all the ways that they were going to help control drugs.

NARRATOR: One of those drugs was cocaine, which was causing widespread concern. Coke sales were rapidly spreading from the cities to the suburbs, and the 1986 death of basketball star Len Bias, blamed on crack cocaine, put even more pressure on lawmakers.

In 1986 President Reagan signed the Anti Drug Abuse Act, which ordered mandatory minimum sentences with no parole for all illegal drugs. The federal penalties were set according to the amount of the drug involved, equating marijuana plants with gram weights of other drugs. For example, 100 plants is considered comparable to 5 grams of crack cocaine. The mandatory minimum sentence for 100 plants of marijuana is 5 years; for 1000 plants, 10 years.

INDIANA ARCHITECT: I was one of the lucky ones. Because my crime had taken place in the early '80s meant that I was going to be sentenced under the old law, what's now called the old law. And the new law, which came into effect in 1987, has got mandatory minimum sentencing.

NARRATOR: The Indiana architect was released after serving 5 years of his 20-year sentence. Now anyone convicted on the same federal charges would not be allowed parole. The mandatory minimum sentencing ordered by the new law also prevents judges from giving a lesser penalty.

ERIC SCHLOSSER: The 1986 Anti Drug Abuse Act was the most significant drug legislation of this generation, which shifted enormous power within our legal system away from judges to prosecutors.

NARRATOR: Eric Schlosser wrote about the history and impact of marijuana law enforcement for a recent series in "The Atlantic Monthly" magazine. He also consulted for this program.
ERIC SCHLOSSER: And since that law was passed the federal prison population has tripled. And whereas drug offenders used to be a small proportion of federal inmates, today about 70 percent of the people in federal prison are drug offenders. There are more people now in federal prison for marijuana offenses than for violent offenses.

ANDREA STRONG: He had a two-year enhancement, though, I believe, for manager organizer, but that's it.

NARRATOR: Andrea Strong's brother, Mark Young, was sentenced under the new law and was given life for brokering the sale of 700 pounds of marijuana.

ANDREA STRONG: They said, "Well, he can't have bond. He's facing a life sentence." And my mom says, "Well, who did he kill?" You know, "Did he rape somebody? Did he molest some child? What did he do?"

NARRATOR: Young had no previous record of violence or drug trafficking.

ANDREA STRONG: It changed my entire life. I lost my cleaning business because we had made the news and we- our story, Mark's story, with my name and stuff, was in the newspaper, the local paper, and some of the women whose homes that I cleaned in, they didn't want me in their home anymore. You know, I didn't have anything to do with drugs in any kind of way. My brother did.

NARRATOR: About 17 percent of all federal inmates are convicted marijuana offenders. That's one federal prisoner in six. Because mandatory minimum sentences do not allow parole, federal prisoners convicted on non-violent marijuana charges sometimes serve more time than convicted murderers sentenced under state law.

Scott Walt is serving 24 years for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute around 2,000 pounds of marijuana. David Ciglar: 10 years in federal prison for cultivation of 167 marijuana seedlings.

And take the case of John Casali and Todd Wick, two young men convicted of growing some 1,600 marijuana plants in northern California. Their sentence, the 10-year mandatory minimum, was handed down by Judge Thelton Henderson of the federal district court in San Francisco.

Judge THELTON HENDERSON: I told these young men that I wished I could do something other than what I did, and I felt awful about it, but that I felt bound by the law. I think they were rehabilitatable within less than 10 years. I'm opposed to mandatory minimums, in general, because I think they're unduly harsh. I think that they don't allow the judge the discretion to deal with the individual problem. There is a formula that says you've been involved with a certain amount of drugs, for example, ergo you get the mandatory minimum.

ANDREA STRONG: In the federal sentencing, if you have so many plants that are involved in your conspiracy - and in this case it was over a thousand plants - then, like my brother, you receive a life sentence, and that means life without the possibility of ever being paroled. And they'll bury you in Leavenworth's back yard, if you can't bring him home to bury him. And that's what we were told.

NARRATOR: Andrea Strong's brother, Mark Young, appealed his life sentence on grounds that the prosecution had miscounted the number of plants. He's now serving a 12-year sentence. Andrea Strong has become a leader in the national organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

ANDREA STRONG: Our goal is to repeal mandatory minimum sentences that are given to first-time non-violent drug offenders. We believe they should be punished, but we believe their punishment should fit their crime.

NARRATOR: If Mark Young had been sentenced under Indiana state law, he would have received a lesser sentence, but state marijuana penalties vary widely, and in other parts of the country, the state punishment can be even more severe than the federal. In 15 states, you can get life for a non-violent marijuana offense.

NARRATOR: In Oklahoma, Will Foster was sentenced to 93 years for marijuana cultivation and possession in the presence of a child. When Foster was arrested at his Tulsa home in 1995, police said an informant told them Foster had methamphetamines.

WILL FOSTER: It was about 2:00 o'clock on the afternoon of December 28th, and the police come to our house. They didn't knock, they just battering-rammed our door down.

MEGAN BURKE: In less than a 30-second span of time, you know, from the minute they hit the door. My life will never be the same.

NARRATOR: Foster's partner, Megan Burke, was in the house with their three children.

MEGAN BURKE: It happened so quickly. The next thing I know, the door exploded inward. It knocked me backwards onto my 5-year-old daughter.

NARRATOR: They found no methamphetamines, but they did find Foster's marijuana grow room down in the basement.

MEGAN BURKE: I was afraid of it, afraid of the ramifications if we got caught. I knew they would be steep. I had no idea it would be a life sentence, a death penalty, in essence. In the beginning, I was very angry. I just wanted to kill him because I thought, you know, "You did this." And I had to step back from myself because I can't give him all of the blame. I knew what he was doing, and I could have had a big screaming fit and he would have stopped. He would have been mad, but he would have stopped. And I didn't do that. So I guess, in that respect, I share it equally.

NARRATOR: Foster says all the plants were for his personal use, to help with arthritis, but the number of plants raised suspicions.

BRIAN CRAIN, Assistant D.A., Tulsa, Oklahoma: Other than the fact that we found over a kilo of marijuana, there were gram scales, which indicate packaging and distribution. There were baggies. There were other paraphernalia that indicated distribution. We felt comfortable in bringing that to trial. The idea that you can grow marijuana, that you can distribute marijuana, that you can possess marijuana in the presence of a minor- that is not something that we will accept in Tulsa County. [www.pbs.org: Study state-by-state laws]

NARRATOR: Will Foster is serving his time in a Texas prison because there's no room in Oklahoma's overcrowded cells. Foster is appealing on grounds that the search warrant was invalid, and since he was charged under state rather than federal law, he does have the chance of parole. The state had offered Foster a plea bargain, but he refused.

WILL FOSTER: The reason that I went to jury trial was that this was the only way I could guarantee that my wife would not go to prison. She was their only witness. They made her testify against me.

MEGAN BURKE: I didn't want to have to do that. I really didn't. But it was that or I was going to go to prison, and I didn't know who would get these kids. And he said "You have to. You don't have a choice." So I testified for the state, and I testified for the defense, and it was the longest four days I've ever had. And I knew that he'd get something. I mean, it's Oklahoma. But I didn't expect 93 years.

NARRATOR: The wives of marijuana growers are often put under pressure to testify against their husbands or risk prison terms themselves. Jodie Israel refused to take the stand against her husband and is now serving a 12-year federal mandatory minimum sentence.

JODIE ISRAEL: You know, somewhere it's got to stop. If I was to testify against someone and bring down 10 people- you know, it's got to stop somewhere.

NARRATOR: Her husband, a first-time offender, was convicted of growing marijuana. He is a Rastafarian and claimed he used marijuana for religious reasons. Because she presumably knew what he was doing, Jodie Israel was charged with conspiracy.

JODIE ISRAEL: The problem with conspiracy is it's the only time they allow hearsay into the courtroom. So if they can't get you for anything else, they can get you for conspiracy. Your husband could go away on a business trip for the weekend and come back home, and he could have been out, you know, buying drugs, and you're going be charged.

When I came in, my children were 1, 2, and my 3-year-old had just turned 4, and my daughter was 9. And they're all in different homes, and my littlest son doesn't even know who I am. It's hard because, as a parent, you want to protect your child from hurt. And it's like I have caused this hurt.

NARRATOR: She has seen her children only once in each of the four years she's already served.

JODIE ISRAEL: I made a mistake in that I chose the wrong man. But 11 years of my life away from my children isn't right.

NARRATOR: Kristen, a teenager who lives near Seattle, Washington, is learning what happens to a family when a parent is caught growing marijuana.

KRISTEN : I knew that my Dad grew pot. I didn't know how big it was or, you know, anything like that, but it didn't bother me. I just never really thought twice of it. I never thought the consequences could be this harsh on my family, otherwise I probably would have said, you know, "Hey, Dad, maybe you shouldn't be doing this."

NARRATOR: John Angelo, who worked as a design engineer at Boeing Aircraft, had a grow room behind the house where he lived with his family.

JOHN ANGELO: This was an underground hydroponic growing facility. I had six trays on each side, 30 feet long. Each side was capable of holding 380 plants.

NARRATOR: Angelo says he suffers from manic depression. He is an activist, working to legalize medical use of marijuana.

JOHN ANGELO: I've been smoking pot since I was 12 years old. I've been growing it for the last 12 years. I found a long time ago that I'm able to function with marijuana. My oldest daughter knew what I was doing. She never questioned it.

KRISTEN : You know, he didn't smoke it around me or force me to smoke it or anything like that. Everyone experiments with it. And for a while, I did use it in school and I got very bad grades. It's a lot harder to concentrate. You can't study very well.

NARRATOR: John Angelo and his wife, Rachel, say the three younger children never knew about the marijuana operation.

RACHEL ANGELO: I'm completely against children using marijuana. They don't need to be putting stuff in their bodies when they're growing, including caffeine, drugs, alcohol-

JOHN ANGELO: Nicotine, right.

RACHEL ANGELO: -of any kind. Their little minds need to be developing.

JOHN ANGELO: I had no idea that they were going to take my children away from me, that they were going to take my property away from me, and that they were going to put me in jail for 5 years. I had no idea.

KRISTEN : I was out with friends. And I came home from school and we were pulling down the road and my friends said, you know, "There's cop car at your house." And I was, like, "Oh, you're just kidding." You know, "Don't play around with me like that." And they're, like, "No, Kristen, we're serious." You know, "There's a cop car down there."

RACHEL ANGELO: They came belting through those doors with their guns in hand and pointing them around the room and, you know, talking and-


RACHEL ANGELO: Well, yelling, and yelling for John- "John, come out! John, come out!"

KRISTEN : My dad was in handcuffs and Rachel was in the car, and I was just- I was shocked. I mean, I was just- I can't even explain how I felt. It was just, you know, total adrenaline rush. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say. I was really scared for both of them.

MARK KLEIMAN: Keeping middle-class kids from drugs has always ranked very high among the goals of American drug policy. And a lot of 14-year-olds have now started to use marijuana.

NARRATOR: Mark Kleiman, a professor of policy studies at the University of California in Los Angeles, has studied the patterns of marijuana use.

MARK KLEIMAN: For a while, the number of users was falling and, particularly, the number of young users was falling. That unfortunately stopped in 1991, and since then, the number of young users has been increasing. And what's really frightening is initiations happening at younger and younger ages.

Gen. BARRY McCAFFREY: [at press conference] Marijuana is the principal drug of abuse among youngsters, with increased numbers of hospital admissions or treatment admissions where marijuana is cited as the principle drug threat.

NARRATOR: The alarm has sounded for the White House Office on Drug Policy, headed by General Barry McCaffrey.

Gen. BARRY McCAFFREY: [at press conference] The drug threat is changing, and student populations are picking up on it, and it's tending to drift into younger years. The first use of marijuana figure - how old were you when you first used marijuana - has steadily dropped. And I anticipate the next time we get a number to give you, it will have dropped further.

NARRATOR: You won't get an argument from many American students. In Warsaw, Indiana, schools the talk is about mixed messages, with families and children torn between what the law says and what widespread use, even in their own homes, is telling them.

GIRL: I know I lost one of my best friends over marijuana. Her mom found out, and her mom was mad, but her mom also does it, so, I mean, her mom isn't setting a good role model, or her dad.

LEE ANN RICHARDSON: I had a girl tell me that her parents were smoking marijuana. And I asked her what she did in that situation, and she said she left and goes to her room. And I said, "That's very good." You know, she's making the right choice, the right decision to get away from the environment, basically.

BRET RICHARDSON: Just last week, I had one of my students come to me to tell me about one of his relatives, and he wants something done about it, so the information has been turned over to our drug task force. I tell them all the ramifications of that choice that they are making, and if they want the police involved in it, it's going to disrupt the family life. And then it's up to the student to decide if that's the direction they want it to go. We don't encourage the kids to spy. That's not my role. I'm there as instructor, not as an enforcement officer.

LEE ANN RICHARDSON: And you see he becomes- I could see he became partially defensive on it. I think that's a sore subject with us, especially with the D.A.R.E. program, because it has nothing in the curriculum about, you know, turning people in or doing anything that way. [www.pbs.org: How effective is D.A.R.E.?]

STEVE WHITE: One year, we did three indoor grows here based on the children of the growers through the D.A.R.E. program. They not only told us about it, they drew diagrams, how to get to Daddy's indoor grow. So that's tough on a family. The more I think about it, the more I wonder.

NARRATOR: During his career arresting marijuana suspects, former DEA agent Steve White found himself asking more questions.

STEVE WHITE: I had done a lot of undercover work. It was mainly amphetamines, LSD, heroin and cocaine. I thought all dope dealers were scum to various levels, that they would sell out their mother, and I've seen it time after time. When I got into the marijuana program, one thing that amazed me was how cooperative a lot of the people were, how proud of what they're doing, how normal, in every other respect, they were. And there's some of them that I quite frankly like. This is confusing, but I still put them in jail.

SUSPECT: I'm not hurting nobody, or at least I don't feel I am. I'm hurting my lungs maybe. You know, buy a joint somewhere and you're a felon, or they want you to be a felon. I mean, you know, that's the name of the game for them.

STEVE WHITE: I came to see them as a different breed of cat. They're still criminals, but they don't have some of the characteristics of all the others that I dealt with in the 20 years previously.

DENNIS FITZGERALD: There are some agents that don't see crimes associated with marijuana use. They don't see the armed robberies that follow crack use or that follow heroin addiction. They don't see any of the crimes that you associate generally with drug abuse.

NARRATOR: Dennis Fitzgerald was a federal drug enforcement agent for 20 years. Now retired from the DEA, Fitzgerald is director of the National Institute for Drug Enforcement Training.

DENNIS FITZGERALD: Marijuana abusers don't, generally, when they can't get marijuana, go out and rob a liquor store to get money to buy their marijuana. It just doesn't follow. So an awful lot of law enforcement officers just don't have the personal conviction when it comes to marijuana enforcement that they do with the enforcement of heroin laws or crack cocaine laws or cocaine laws. A lot of agents feel as though the marijuana laws misdirect an awful lot of investigative energies, and people are going to jail for significant periods of time over very small quantities of marijuana.

NARRATOR: Agents like Fitzgerald and Steve White have watched the war on marijuana escalate. It is now costing federal, state and local agencies at least $10 billion a year, more than one fourth the total budget for the war on drugs. The enforcement effort has brought other consequences.

DENNIS FITZGERALD: The forfeiture of the assets directly enriches the police agency that brings the case against the grow operators. Now, the monies that they receive from asset forfeiture, primarily, it can be used to pay informants.

NARRATOR: Dennis Fitzgerald has written a book about how government agencies use informants to make drug arrests. Informants can be paid up to 25 percent of the value of assets seized in arrests, up to $250,000.

DENNIS FITZGERALD: What bothers me about the informant situation is the unbelievable amounts of money that the informants are making, that they can make. There are pamphlets that are put out on what to look for in marijuana indoor grow operations: large air-conditioning bills, large power bills, the delivery of firewood, generators. There's a whole laundry list of things that people are told to look for. Ordinary citizens are encouraged. There's just this whole network of people that are out there, just average citizens that have been drawn in to become informants, neighborhood crime watches that have gone a step too far.

POLICE OFFICER: Police search warrant!

NARRATOR: On this case, an informant had told state police that this house in Indianapolis harbored a marijuana grow. No one was home except the suspect's son.

POLICE OFFICER: Is your Dad home? Well, we've got a search warrant to search the house. Where does your dad work?

NARRATOR: When the suspect came home, it turned out he was being used as an informant himself on another state police marijuana case, so the charges on this arrest were deferred.

SUSPECT: It's all about, I guess, they want you to look for somebody that's bigger than you- stepping stone.

JOHN ANGELO: They were able to get a search warrant for an overhead infrared search. So they come over with a helicopter one night and saw the heat signature of the trailer under the ground, and that was their basis for a search warrant, then, at that time to come in and arrest us.

NARRATOR: An informant's tip had also led to the arrest of John and Rachel Angelo.

RACHEL ANGELO: I feel that the government actually makes people feel good about using the marijuana laws or drug laws as a basis for- or as a bouncing board for people to take advantage of each other and to be vindictive with one another. You know, "Hurt your neighbor. It's the right thing to do."

JOHN ANGELO: Although I feel it's an improper law and I should have worked to change that law, and I would like to see laws changed, I agree. Yes, I did break a law. But I was no threat to the community. I was no threat to the environment or to my kids or to anybody else. Justice would have been served a lot better by taking my talents or my abilities to work to let me continue with my job and paying taxes and stuff, but community service and home incarceration, keeping my family together.

NARRATOR: Rachel Angelo was facing a five-year prison term. John could get 10 years in addition to a million-dollar fine.

Judge THELTON HENDERSON: I think when the sentencing guidelines first came in, we thought they would phase out after some period of time. They're still around, and I see no indication of them phasing out in the near future. But I'm not aware of anything judges can do. We can't lobby. We're pretty much handicapped. We can speak out, such as I'm speaking out now, and state our displeasure and hope that the time will come when Congress will revisit this.

Sen. ORRIN HATCH, (R), Utah: The reason why we went to mandatory minimums is because of these soft-on-crime judges that we have in our society, judges who just will not get tough on crime.

NARRATOR: As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah has been a leader in the fight to strengthen anti-crime laws. He strongly supports mandatory minimum sentencing.

Sen. ORRIN HATCH: Keep in mind these growers and these pushers, they're killing our kids. They're the reason we have such a drug culture in this society that's just wrecking our country in a lot of respects. In all honesty, I think that when you have people who are pushing drugs on our kids or pushing at all, we ought to get as nails on them, and I don't think- in many respects, we ought to lock them up and throw away the keys.

NARRATOR: Over the last decade, mandatory minimum sentencing has been reconsidered by congress. The debates have not led to any change in the law.

Rep. STEVEN SCHIFF, (R), New Mexico: [at hearing] I think the debate, if any, should be over how long individuals should be in prison compared to others. The debate should never become whether individuals should spend time in prison.

MARK KLEIMAN: We ought to think about sentencing in terms of its actual impacts on behavior, and we ought to frame our sentences in ways that make sense both morally and practically

NARRATOR: Mark Kleiman recently joined a group of prominent scientists, drug experts and public officials in proposing a new middle-of-the road approach to national drug policy. [www.pbs.org: Read the proposal.]

MARK KLEIMAN: We don't want to debate legalization versus prohibition. We don't want to debate hawks versus doves. We want to say, "Look, this is really a complicated question. We need to look in detail at individual policies and figure out which ones will actually serve the public interest."

One of the principles is that we ought to base our sentencing on a balancing of costs and benefits, and not merely use long sentences as a way of expressing disapproval. I think we ought to start basing mandatory sentences on the conduct of the people engaged. Are they using violence? Are they using corruption? Are they using kids? If we do that, I think we'll have a more sensible set of sentences.

STEVE WHITE: I cannot see somebody in there doing eight years for marijuana and a rapist being set free. Anybody that abuses another human being I have a certain loathing for. There's a disparity there. But that's not with law enforcement. We don't make the laws and we don't sentence the offenders. All we do is catch people.

NARRATOR: John Angelo and his wife, Rachel, agreed to a plea bargain. Rachel testified for the prosecution and was given three months in a halfway house with work release. After she returned home, John would enter federal prison for a five-year term.

RACHEL ANGELO: Just exactly what we expected to happen. They went with the plea agreement because it was the easiest thing to do, I think.

JOHN ANGELO: And I'm willing to accept what I plead to. I saved Rachel and her father both a lot of pain and suffering, and I'll live by that then. That's it. Let's go home.

NARRATOR: Like John Angelo, Doug Keenan says he needs to grow and use marijuana for medical reasons. He's a cancer patient. But Keenan is the kind of marijuana grower who confuses the issue. He freely admits he also uses marijuana for pleasure.

DOUG KEENAN: Most of the people that are in this want to see the plant let free. Actually, we'd like to just see the dialogue get started, but we're having enough trouble, you know, getting the government to the table on that. Everybody on all sides agrees that it's not working, what we're doing. Great. What are we going to do next?

Dr. DAVID MUSTO: Actually, the American people are, in a way, deciding now about marijuana in a way they never had the opportunity before. We may be unraveling the national consensus on drugs and bringing back to the states the decision as to what to do with drugs because the votes in Arizona and in California suggest that there could be parts of the country in which there's a different point of view.

NARRATOR: Both California and Arizona have passed initiatives that permit medical use of marijuana. In California, behind the doors of cannabis clubs like this one in San Francisco, marijuana openly changes hands. The clubs are open to anyone presenting a doctor's letter stating medical need. The existence of the cannabis clubs has been challenged in court.

Dr. DAVID MUSTO: The medical marijuana debate is extremely interesting. There's no question that people who want to legalize marijuana are using the medical marijuana issue as a wedge. On the other hand, there are many statements from people who have used marijuana in situations in which they've been greatly helped by marijuana, and that's their testimony.

MARK KLEIMAN: And the answer therefore has to be, it seems to me, let's do the research. I've been boring people for five years now by just saying, whenever this question comes up, "Let's do the research. "Let's find out. Let's try it on some patients and see if they get better." We shouldn't debate medical marijuana as a shadow play about the deeper question of legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Sen. ORRIN HATCH: The minute California passed that particular statute, we had marijuana fields start to grow up again, on the basis that they're using it for medicinal purposes. And in the process, of course, we've got a lot of indiscriminate use of marijuana now in California that is even greater than it was before. If you allow people to grow marijuana and to indiscriminately grow and use it, then you're adding to the lack of discipline and the problems that we have in our society and, really, to, ultimately, the harder use of harder drugs.

STEVE WHITE: I do not believe that decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana is going to help in any way. I think it's a dangerous drug. I don't think it does any good. Period.

DENNIS FITZGERALD: I'm not for blanket legalization of marijuana. I think certain offenses should be decriminalized.

MAN AT ANTI-DRUG RALLY: Marijuana is the cure-all wrong message.

Dr. DAVID MUSTO: Should the government intrude on your private right to do something? Or does the government have an obligation to take steps to protect you in ways that you couldn't protect yourself? This goes back to the Federalist papers, I mean, or to the Constitution. How should we run our lives? And marijuana has become the symbol of how we should think about something that's medicine or not a medicine, a private right or a public right. And people bring to it their deepest feelings and their image of how they would like the world to be run.

STEVE WHITE: It's an emotional issue. It's right there with gays in the military and abortion. Everybody's got an opinion on it. When I started in law enforcement, the general opinion, particularly in the white middle class community, was "Marijuana? Send them to jail," because they're probably black or Chicano, to begin with, and it wasn't something that affected us. Now it touches everybody in America. And I don't think anybody doesn't have a family member in an extended family that hasn't been touched by it.

ANNOUNCER: Discover more of our report at FRONTLINE's Web site. Take the marijuana quiz, explore the interactive guide to federal and state laws on marijuana, read an essay by the grower who's gone public, and take a close look at two case histories, plus a timeline on marijuana in the U.S., the best of the pro and con arguments and much more at FRONTLINE on line at www.pbs.org.

Next time on FRONTLINE-

1st LAWYER: We've been considered to be tilting at windmills.

ANNOUNCER: -a modern-day David and Goliath story.

2nd LAWYER: I wanted to get the truth out.

1st LAWYER: We bet the ranch on it.

ANNOUNCER: How a couple of small-town lawyers used secret tobacco industry documents-

2nd LAWYER: The evidence was so powerful.

ANNOUNCER: -to build the biggest case in American legal history.

1st LAWYER: When Liggett actually settled, it was earth-shaking. It started the walls crumbling.

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JEFFREY CARVER: [Arlington, MA] I can understand the desire of the producers to shy away from the question of Christ's divinity. It's a hot topic, after all. But really, if you're afraid to address that question, then much of the rest rings rather hollow. You can leave belief or unbelief up to the viewer, but you can't just pretend it's not there.

JOHN MURRAY: [Redwood City, CA] As a committed Catholic, I was very impressed by your program, even conceding its secular liberal bias. The program did something which, unfortunately, occurs all to infrequently in our parishes on Sunday morning. It actually got us thinking about our faith, how it became formed and what it really means.

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