Years ago advocates for the legalization of marijuana were fond of citing the fact the marijuana was the second largest cash crop in the United States, corn being the first. Wanting to verify that, I did some checking and found that it's no longer true. Come to find out, in spite of years of government eradication efforts, marijuana is now the largest cash crop in the country, exceeding the combined value of the corn and wheat crops by $5 billion annually. Except in the two states where it's legal, Colorado and Washington, our nation's laws guarantee that 100 percent of the proceeds from what is by far the largest cash crop in the country go to criminals rather than to legitimate businesses that pay taxes. When the story of the marijuana trade comes to light we'll find that it makes the criminal activity generated by Prohibition look minicule in comparision. One doesn't get a gram of weed from Panama to a small-time dealer on Brackett Street without a lot of wheels being greased along the way. The history of marijuana use in Portland, and the attempts at the policing of same, is probably fairly typical for what's taken place across the country. The first pot bust in the city took place in the early '60s at a "crash pad" that some students from the Portland School of Art — you might know — were occupying in Bramhall Square. The pungeant aroma wafted out under the door and the guy across the hall dropped a dime. The "narcs" were on it big time. They rushed in before the "long-haired hippie freaks," tricky devils that they were, could flush the stuff down the toilet. All they got was what was called a "nickel bag" — $5 worth — but it was enough. Front page headlines in the Press Herald the next day. What a shocker. "Reefer madness" in Portland. "Scarborough Green" was what that first weed was called. Grown in a field next to the Scarborough Marsh. The whole bulging bag full didn't have the THC content that one joint does today, but of course no one had built up any degree of immunity yet and one joint got everyone in the room stoned. Gloriously so. Oh the insights, the non-stop rapping, and the huge amounts of goodies that were consumed. Memories of endless sunny afternoons playing frisbee in Deering Oaks in tie-dyed tee shirts warm the heart and bring a nostalgic tear to the eye of many a local retiree. Yes, there was a let-it-all-hang-out "whoopi ding!" quality to it all in those early days, but as time went on what had begun as an in-crowd almost ritualistic bonding thing among artists, musicians, and left-leaning political types became more of a ... compulsion. Needs developed and a cottage industry grew up to accommodate the demand, so that today a vast underground of small-time pot dealers exists, mostly in low-income neighborhoods. There you go, from tie-dyed to institutionalzed crime, and all because, after all these years, marijuana is still illegal. State Rep Diane Russell has introduced a bill to legalize the stuff on the state level, and the Green Party is mounting an effort to preempt the rest of the state by getting it legalized in Portland first. Actually, it's always been a question of when, not if, and it's interesting to see how it's finally getting there. The wheels of change grind slowly, especially when it comes to legitimizing a vice. Wait, did I say that? A vice? How very uncool of me. Happy smoke a vice? Yep. Just like cigarettes and alcohol are vices. In the end, each one of them presents certain dangers to one's well-being. Let's not lose sight of that. A marijuana joint contains four times the carcinogens that a cigarette does, and the way it's smoked, drawn in forcefully and held in the lungs so that it'll be fully absorbed, does quite a number on the respiratory system. And every time one smokes dope a little black hole gets burned in the brain. Oh well, what's a little mental lapse now and then between friends. Damn, is there no up without a corresponding down in this life? Appears not to be. In any event, it does seem that marijuana, in spite of its dangers, is less of a threat to the individual and to society than cigarettes and alcohol are, and they're legal while marijuana isn't. So we should either criminalize cigarettes and alcohol or legalize marijuana. Wow. I can't believe that the weed thing is finally out in the open. Before long it'll be coming down to yea or nay. So what's it gonna be?