The federal government is trillions of dollars in debt. Congress, unable to come anywhere near a plan for an annual budget, has cut back spending via a cowardly device called "the sequester." And, even before those cuts, the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service have fallen far behind in their efforts to maintain and improve the land we all hold in common so that more of us may avail ourselves of its beauty and solitude.
So, what are too many federal agents in Utah spending way too much of their taxpayer-funded time doing? Busting campers and hikers for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana.
As outlined in a detailed report in Sunday's Salt Lake Tribune, the number of drug possession convictions on federal land in Utah far surpasses the numbers for such actions in any other state. And there is a single Forest Service officer who has seen 10 of the 26 citations he had issued last year tossed by judges due to lack of evidence.
Apparently there is some kind of institutional pressure either self-generated or, more likely, from some personage on up the ladder of authority that encourages such actions. Those who are in charge of federal lands in Utah, and elsewhere, should start setting more intelligent priorities.
It is true that a very large percentage of Utah is in federal hands, and that those lands attract millions of tourists from all over the world. But for a full third of all the convictions for simple possession to come in one small-population state indicates that something is seriously out of whack.
Even people who do not partake of controlled substances are likely to be discouraged from visiting a state where, as the saying goes, one comes on vacation and leaves on probation. Remembering Utah as the place where a friend or relative was busted, convicted, fined and placed on probation, with conditions that include drug testing and travel restrictions, left in debt and with a criminal record that will never go away is not the picture that the state's economic development mavens wish to paint.
Attitudes toward marijuana use are going through some fitful changes these days, with some states moving toward allowing its use for medical purposes or, as recently happened in Colorado, legalizing it. Negotiating that transition will be difficult for federal officials, as pot possession remains a federal crime.
In any event, this many busts for mere possession would, be any rational measure, be a very low priority for those who police federal lands.
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