Rep Jared PolisThe only way to keep marijuana from growing in national parks is to legalize it and regulate production for consumer use, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) told the US House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The House was in the midst of a debate on HR 1540, a bill which declares that the cultivation of marijuana on federal lands is an "unacceptable threat to law enforcement and to the public."

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Walter Herger (R-CA), calls on the Office on National Drug Control Policy to work with federal and state authorities to develop a strategy "to permanently dismantle Mexican drug trafficking organizations operating on federal lands."

"I have no doubt that marijuana plantations, as the resolution states, pose a threat to the environmental health of Federal lands, that drug traffickers spray unregulated chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers, but I submit that the best way to address that is to incorporate this into a meaningful and enforceable agricultural policy for the country with regard to the regulatory structure for the production of marijuana," Rep. Polis said.

"As long as [marijuana] remains illegal and as long as there is a market demand, the production will be driven underground," he continued. "No matter how much we throw at enforcement, it will continue to be a threat not only to our Federal lands, but to our border security and to our safety within our country."

The Obama administration had pledged to recalibrate the nation's drug war, tilting the scales toward treating addiction as a medical issue and refocusing law enforcement on traffickers. Instead, the Office on National Drug Control Policy's fiscal year 2010 budget showed an even greater emphasis on enforcement over treatment.

Last April 20, an unofficial holiday for many marijuana consumers around the world, the Associated Press found that 56 percent of Americans want the drug treated the same as alcohol under the law.

Former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders said in October that she supports the legalization of marijuana, citing the high number of people imprisoned in the US for non-violent crimes.

"I think we consume far more dangerous drugs that are legal: cigarette smoking, nicotine and alcohol," Elders said. "I feel they cause much more devastating effects physically. We need to lift the prohibition on marijuana."

Data from the FBI's "Crime in the United States" report shows that in 2008 there was an average of one drug arrest every 18 seconds.

"Passage of this resolution will send a clear message to the drug czar and others that our current strategies for combating illegal marijuana production are not working and that a new direction is needed," Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, said of the bill.

"There are two choices here: continue the failed prohibitionist policies that encourage Mexican drug cartels to keep growing marijuana on federal lands, or embrace a new path that would acknowledge the reality that marijuana is not going away, but its production and sale can be sensibly regulated in order to reduce the harm caused by its illicit production on federal lands."

A ballot measure that would have legalized and regulated marijuana for recreational use failed in the state of California last November by a margin of 54 to 46 percent.