January 3-9, 2007

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By Patricia Lynn Henley

Whole lotta pot

Marijuana has smoked past corn and wheat combined to become the United State's premier cash crop, according to a report by a nonprofit organization advocating for regulating pot in a manner similar to alcohol. Per analysis in a recent study released by the Marijuana Policy Project, the 2006 U.S. pot crop was worth $35.8 billion, compared to $23.3 billion for corn and $7.45 billion for wheat. In California alone, the value of the estimated marijuana grown was $14 billion, nearly twice the combined worth of the national production of wheat and cotton. "After decades of so-called eradication, marijuana is far and away California's No. 1 cash crop," says Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Bruce Mirken. "Our current laws take our biggest agricultural product and hand a monopoly to unregulated criminals and gangs." Of course, there's a certain built-in difficulty in trying to assess the state-by-state quantity produced and price paid for an illegal substance; there are no USDA crop reports on marijuana. The study by researcher John B. Gettman is based in part on a U.S. government estimate that domestic marijuana production has increased from 2.2 million pounds in 1981 to 22 million pounds in 2006. In his report, Gettman notes that "regardless of the size and intensity of state-level eradication programs, the seizure of outdoor cultivated marijuana plants represents only 8 percent of all outdoor cultivated plants and that seizures of indoor marijuana plants represent only 2 percent of all indoor plants." According to Gettman, police reports usually peg the street worth of seized marijuana between $2,000 and $4,000 a pound, and figure that one plant produces up to a pound of usable material. In his study, Gettman estimates that the 2006 "farm" price for marijuana was $1,606 a pound, and that the average plant yields 100 grams, or about 3.5 ounces. This makes marijuana the top cash crop in 12 states and one of the top five cash crops in 39 states. According to this study, five states had a 2006 pot crop worth more than $1 billion: California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Hawaii and Washington. California has the largest estimated harvest, with 21.6 million plants producing 8.6 million pounds worth $12.3 million; Wyoming ranks 50th with 5,722 plants (almost all grown indoors) yielding 1,299 pounds for $2,087. The report concludes: "The tenfold growth of production over the last 25 years and the proliferation to every part of the country demonstrate that marijuana has become a pervasive and ineradicable part of the national economy."

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