CNBC special 'Marijuana USA' exposes pot as minimal threat amid more risky drugs Ecstasy, cocaine.
Marijuana often seems almost incidental in drug discussions these days, but as CNBC's Trish Regan persuasively argues in this new special, that assessment would be incorrect.
While pot at one time was considered Exhibit A for the evil of drugs and the brazen lawlessness of those who smoked it, its danger has been eclipsed by cocaine, crack cocaine and faddish designer drugs like Ecstasy.
Compared to the horror stories about those bad boys, many people today figure the risk from some aging hippie toking on a joint falls somewhere between minimal and nonexistent.
Regan finds, however, that things are hardly that simple, or mellow, in the marijuana game. It long ago became a big business and today in many areas is moving toward legitimacy.
On one side, she talks with Kentucky drug officers who patrol that state's miles of mountains, often by helicopter, looking for as few as a half-dozen marijuana plants in a cluster.
Lt. Brent Roper, who heads Kentucky's marijuana strike force, says his team destroyed more than $200 million of plants last year, which he estimates is about 60% of the illegal crop.
Kentucky will never legalize pot, he said, because it's too dangerous. It's the gateway drug, says Roper, to all the others.
For another view, Regan travels to Colorado, one of 15 states to legalize "medical marijuana" for patients whose doctors certify they need it for pain relief.
Since that law passed, more than 1,000 medical marijuana outlets have sprung up around the state. To put that in perspective, they outnumber Starbucks in Colorado 2 to 1.
Some of the legal stores carry as many varieties of pot as convenience stores have of energy drinks - including, yes, the beloved and fabled Maui Wowie.
In states where medical marijuana is legal, there are clinics and classes on how to grow maximum-strength marijuana.
These days, Regan reports, marijuana is a $20 billion industry, and that status bolsters several of the longest-running arguments for its legalization.
First, it's clear that criminalizing it has hardly stopped or even slowed usage. Second, if it were legalized, the potential taxes on sales could raise $20 billion.
Californians last month voted against legalizing marijuana by a margin of about 9%. The compelling argument, most feel, is that if it were legal, more kids would smoke it, and we don't really want kids smoking more of anything - including tobacco.
But Regan's special suggests that momentum over the last half-century lies with the pro-pot crowd. "Reefer Madness" days are history, and even opponents of legalization don't rail about the demon weed.
Regan is careful to avoid too many predictions. Still, "Marijuana USA" suggests the sweet smell is getting stronger.