Buzzed bunnies: The last spurts of ‘Reefer Madness’


The headlines were everywhere. “DEA Warns of Stoned Rabbits if Utah Passes Medical Marijuana” was over a story in The Washington Post. A search for “cannabis bunnies Utah” yielded page after page of rewrites of that same tale with variant headlines about small mammals in THC ecstasy.

Buzzed bunnies? Washington Post? WTF?

I decided to access the actual testimony, which came from special DEA agent Matt Fairbanks on Feb. 26 before the Utah Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee in room 250 of the state capitol in Salt Lake City.

Fairbanks is one of five officers and health officials who testified that day against S.B. 259 Medical Cannabis Amendments, a bill introduced to modify provisions in a law passed last year that lets “certified” individuals suffering from intractable epileptic disorders use CBD oil to treat seizures.

While the bill made it legal to possess CBD oil, the process of licensing was expensive and onerous. Since there was no provision to get CBD products in the state, people needed to go (where else?) to Colorado for the strain, known as “Charlotte’s Web,” and bring it across the state line, which was illegal, too. The new bill would change some of the original rules, including allowing licensed growers/manufacturers to provide CBD oil for those individuals.

Opposing the bill, special agent Fairbanks first produced a chart that indicated that usage among young adults is rising in states where medical marijuana has been allowed and cited medical associations that are on the record against medical marijuana. He told the committee that he listened to the testimony of people who use medical marijuana and he understands their pain.

“I deal in facts. I deal in science,” he said. “I want the science studied, looked at and specifically gone over.”

So far, so good. 

At this point we find out that special agent Fairbanks is a “special” agent because he is a member of the marijuana eradication unit, which he tells the committee has spent “millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours” to exterminate almost 100,000 illegal plants in Utah’s outdoor spaces in the last two years.

OK. He said that illegal grow operations use pesticides and harmful chemicals and can cause erosion and deforestation. I can’t argue with that.

“I spend time up on those mountains protecting our environment,” he said.

But then he heads directly into the ditch.

“The deforestation has left marijuana grows with rabbits that have developed a taste for the marijuana, where one of them refused to leave us. We took all the marijuana around him, but his natural instincts to run were somehow gone.”

That’s it. This man of science told a state legislative committee that he witnessed a rabbit that wouldn’t leave an area when ordered by environmentalist DEA agents and concluded it was because the bunny was hitting the edibles a little too hard.

“We don’t know how to protect our backcountry,” he said.

What Fairbanks said is certainly fodder for idiotic news of the day, but the implications aren’t as funny. Those millions of dollars that Fairbanks and his merry band of DEA environmentalists spent to confiscate pot plants haven’t stopped Utah citizens from using cannabis, but it does give his squad a number (150,000 plants) to pump up his pride and justify his efforts and expenditures.

This is how the drug war and those who fight it feed upon themselves. Fairbanks or the other law officials never consider the obvious: that if marijuana were regulated, there wouldn’t be a need for the illegal grows on national forest lands. Or the even more obvious: that none of the pot being grown there has anything to do with medical patients. Those grows are for Utah citizens who use cannabis despite the restrictions, and it has been going on long before the Utah medical law was passed last year.

We make light of this kind of reefer madness, and rightly so. But since the demonization of marijuana began after alcohol prohibition ended, society has deemed that alcohol, an extremely dangerous drug, is the only acceptable way to get “high.” That’s ridiculous, of course. People will always find ways to change their consciousness, and polls continue to indicate that more and more Americans don’t support the idea of millions of their tax dollars going to DEA agents who spend their time keeping the nation safe from nationalforest pot grows.

In the end, cooler heads prevailed. The committee wasn’t notably persuaded by Fairbank’s arguments about outof-control fauna.

The bill passed 4-2 and is waiting to be introduced on the Utah Senate floor.

Respond: [email protected]

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU.


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