Monday, December 18, 2006

Pot Top Crop


The Los Angeles Times reported today that marijuana is the number one cash crop in the United States, worth $35 billion per year.

Correspondent Eric Bailey writes:

For years, activists in the marijuana legalization movement have claimed that cannabis is America's biggest cash crop. Now they're citing government statistics to prove it.

A report released today by a marijuana public policy analyst contends that the market value of pot produced in the U.S. exceeds $35 billion — far more than the crop value of such heartland staples as corn, soybeans and hay, which are the top three legal cash crops.
This is evidence of two things: (1) government efforts at eradication of marijuana are failures and (2) prohibition drives up the price of prohibited goods.

It also shows that the government is missing an opportunity that could benefit taxpayers where it counts: in each of our individual pocketbooks. The expenditures on law-enforcement could be replaced with revenues from taxes on legal marijuana, a net gain for everyone.

Here's why:
Jon Gettman, the report's author, is a public policy consultant and leading proponent of the push to drop marijuana from the federal list of hard-core Schedule 1 drugs — which are deemed to have no medicinal value and a high likelihood of abuse — such as heroin and LSD.

He argues that the data support his push to begin treating cannabis like tobacco and alcohol by legalizing and reaping a tax windfall from it, while controlling production and distribution to better restrict use by teenagers.

"Despite years of effort by law enforcement, they're not getting rid of it," Gettman said. "Not only is the problem worse in terms of magnitude of cultivation, but production has spread all around the country. To say the genie is out of the bottle is a profound understatement."
The report itself recommends:

It’s time to debate the legalization of marijuana in the United States. Skeptics argue against legalization as a way of reducing teenage access, for example, by citing teenage access to alcohol and tobacco in a legal market despite age restrictions and related penalties. However unlike marijuana teens do not have a profit motive to sell tobacco and alcohol to one another. Effective control over production of tobacco and alcohol are prerequisites to both controlling access to those drugs by teenagers and the implementation of successful educational and discouragement campaigns. Replacing the façade of control provided by current policies with effective regulatory policies is also the first step in enacting effective policies to reduce teenage marijuana use.

Key elements of marijuana legalization policies should include federal and state excise taxes on production, distribution, and sales along with licensed market participation, age restrictions, and prohibitions on advertising and marketing to minors. Current regulatory models for tobacco and alcohol provide suitable examples upon which to base legislation to enact effective marijuana controls under federal and state laws.

Under the policies of the last 25 years marijuana has become the most widely produced illegal drug in the United States and the nation’s largest cash crop. The ten-fold increase in marijuana production from 1,000 metric tons in 1981 to the contemporary estimate of 10,000 metric tons undermines all drug control programs; with results like these it is difficult to take assurances of long-term effectiveness in any federal anti-drug program seriously. Taxation and regulation of marijuana is in the public interest. The refusal to implement a regulatory program for marijuana in the United States is irresponsible and a violation of the public trust.

The ten-fold growth of production over the last 25 years and its proliferation to every part of the country demonstrate that marijuana has become a pervasive and ineradicable part of our national economy. The failure of intensive eradication programs suggests that it is finally time to give serious consideration to marijuana’s legalization in the United States.

Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project commented on Gettman's report in a news release:
"The fact that marijuana is America's number one cash crop after more than three decades of governmental eradication efforts is the clearest illustration that our present marijuana laws are a complete failure," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "America's marijuana crop is worth more than our nation's annual production of corn and wheat combined. And our nation's laws guarantee that 100 percent of the proceeds from marijuana sales go to unregulated criminals rather than to legitimate businesses that pay taxes to support schools, police and roads."
Of course, the United States is not the only country in which marijuana is a significant cash crop. This is a worldwide phenomenon. A lot of poorer countries could also benefit from a re-legalization project, with farmers benefiting from payments for a crop that is in demand and governments better able to balance their books with legitimate tax revenues rather than the graft and corruption that result from marijuana prohibition.

The late Milton Friedman, among other distinguished economists, showed how marijuana prohibition has adverse economic effects and that legalization would be the best course to take. Perhaps all those members of Congress who voted to praise Dr. Friedman earlier this month will actually pay attention to what he taught as this new study re-emphasizes his wise counsel.

While we're on the subject of pot, here is a stupid criminal story with an added soupçon of seasonal silliness. The AP reports from Jay, Oklahoma:
Police arrested a woman after finding marijuana in a Christmas card she tried to give her jailed boyfriend. Dawn E. Smith, 44, of Grove, was arrested in connection with the incident at the Delaware County Jail.

She is accused of trying to distribute a controlled substance and bringing a controlled substance into a jail.

Her boyfriend, Steven McRae Jones, 26, pleaded guilty on Nov. 1 to charges that he repeatedly rammed Smiths car and took a swing at the arresting officer.
That story is so juicy on so many levels, I can't even begin to comment on it. Just savor it for what it is.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

For the record, I've never tried marijuana or even seen a marijuana cigarette outside of television and movies, and with the exception of documentaries, those were probably fake. I have also never consumed any form of alcoholic beverage. Frankly, I see no point, and it doesn't make any sense to me as an individual. That said, Prohibition didn't work a few decades ago, and it clearly isn't working now. All Prohibition accomplished was the strengthening of the street gangs of the time, providing them the resources to expand at an exponential rate and provide means to maintain that strength after the fall of Prohibition. I'm not surprised in the least by this news and agree in principle with the conclusions in your post.

One concern I've heard, however, is how marijuana legalization would affect the ability of law enforcement of DWI and other vehicular offenses in a manner comparable to that currently used for people under the influence of alcohol. At the time, over a decade ago now, I frankly lacked the life experience to think of a suitable answer. However, DWI can also apply to blood pressure medication, antibiotics, decongestants, and anything else that may impair one's ability to safely operate a vehicle. In those instances, the definition of DWI is the impairment, not the substance. Therefore, a videotaped field sobriety test should be more than adequate. It's a thought...

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