Of all the arguments that have been made over the past year in support of California's initiative to legalize marijuana, perhaps the most convincing is the one found on page 237 of Katie Arnoldi's novel "Point Dume."
The drug cartels are growing marijuana on our public lands. Right this minute, there are millions of plants in grow-sites all around the country and especially in California. The chemicals they use are destroying wildlife, our national parks and designated wilderness. I've been into these grow-sites and have seen, first hand, the enormous environmental devastation. It is a problem that should not be ignored.
But those hot-button issues Arnoldi touched on in her novel have not been at the forefront of the debate over the merits of Proposition 19, which according to the most recent poll numbers, is losing support among voters.
"The [Mexican drug] cartels are using really toxic chemicals to grow these plants and then those chemicals are going into the product that they're smoking," Arnoldi said in an interview with Truthout. "By legalizing [marijuana] we can control that and diminish [their] incentive to come up here and grow in California."
Although "Point Dume" is a work of fiction, Arnoldi spent years intensely researching the elaborate marijuana grow sites operated by the Mexican drug cartels on public lands in California and how their use of pesticides and other highly toxic chemicals on the plants has wreaked havoc on the environment.
"I spent two weeks in the summer of  working with law enforcement and the military locating, infiltrating and eradicating some of these marijuana gardens," Arnoldi said. "We were flown by helicopter into the sites then broke down the infrastructure and cleaned up the pollution as best we could. It was dangerous because these were active sites and the growers were hiding out in the backcountry. We were protected by armed guards at all times. That operation, called LOCCUST, netted $1.4 billion in eradicated marijuana plants. There were 36 arrests. What we found was just the tip of the iceberg."
Armed with that research, Arnoldi crafted a compelling narrative set in the Malibu Mountains, between the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Ventura Highway on the East, where the marijuana grow sites have flourished, that exposes the contradictions in the country's immigration and drug policies.
"Point Dume" plunges head first into a world where the divide between rich and poor is as visible as the mountaintop; vanity vineyards on the one hand and the equally lucrative but clandestine marijuana grow sites in the ravines below the mansions on the other.
Arnoldi, a Southern California native and author of two previous critically acclaimed novels, noted that a report released in June by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federal program that coordinates drug control efforts among local, state and Federal law enforcement agencies, concluded that "California produces more marijuana than Mexico."
"Neither the Citizens of California nor many law enforcment officials fully comprehend the ominous organized crime system that operates secretly in this state producing cannabis," the report says.
"There are an estimated 77,697 acres (121 square miles) used throughout California to grow cannibas. For every acre that is 'Impacted' (the actual growing area) there are another 2 to 10 aces that are considered 'Constrained.' The Constrained area is that which is marked by trails, waterlines, campsites and other areas trampled by growers," according to the report. "The City of Sacramento is 97 square miles in size and the amount of area used for growing marijuana exceeds the size of the state's Capital city...Why do the drug trafficking organizations grow so much marijuana in California? The answer is simply the demand by users and unrestrained profits."
The video interview with Katie Arnoldi was produced and edited by Robert Corsini.