Pubdate: Tue, 07 Aug 2007
Source: Metrowest Daily News (MA)
Copyright: 2007 MetroWest Daily News
Author: Ronald Fraser, Guest columnist
Note: Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the 
DKT Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization.
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


Once a small part of Massachusetts' farm economy, marijuana is now the
state's third ranked money crop and, nationally, with an annual market
value of $35.8 billion, marijuana ranks ahead of corn and wheat crops,
combined. As Massachusetts' congressional delegation helps piece
together a new federal farm bill in Washington, they should consider
how marijuana, long an agricultural outcast, would better serve the
folks back home as a legal, regulated crop - like tobacco.

A good starting point for this policy review is "Marijuana Production
in the United States (2006)", a study by Dr. Jon Gettman, a regional
economics expert and adjunct instructor at Shepard University.

"Despite intensive eradication efforts," says Gettman, "domestic
marijuana production has increased ten fold over the last 25 years,
from 2.2 million pounds in 1981 to 22 million pounds in 2006 - and its
proliferation to every part of the country demonstrates that marijuana
has become a pervasive and ineradicable part of the national economy."

Currently marijuana use is discouraged through draconian law
enforcement policies. Using crop eradication tactics, federal and
state agents attempt to wipe out the annual marijuana crop, but they
only reach about eight percent of it, leaving the rest to enter a
thriving underground marketplace. What is needed is a new policy
capable of controlling not just a fraction of the marijuana crop, but
one that effectively deals with the 92 percent now reaching marijuana

Massachusetts' cash crops.

In 2006, Massachusetts' marijuana crop was valued at more than $20
million, behind the 2003-2005 average for the state's two leading cash
crops: cranberries at $51 million and hay at $26 million.
Massachusetts is not unique. In 12 states, marijuana is the top cash
crop and in 17, it ranks second or third.

While marijuana is generally consumed in the state in which it is
grown, Gettman calculates that production in Alabama, California,
Tennessee, Kentucky, Hawaii, Washington, West Virginia, Arkansas and
Alaska exceeds local needs and allows these states to become marijuana

Past studies suggest that new federal and state policies regulating
rather than outlawing marijuana could benefit Massachusetts three ways:

* Cut Costs - Taxpayers could save up to $194 million a year by no
longer enforcing anti-marijuana laws.

* Add Revenue: Tax revenues on marijuana sales could bring in up to $18
million per year.

* Reduce Sales to Minors: High school students claim that marijuana is
easier for them to get than liquor because it isn't regulated. Using tax
revenues on marijuana sales, public officials could do a better job keeping
marijuana out of the hands of minors and fund anti-drug education programs
aimed at kids.

Comparing marijuana to other widely used drugs, Gettman writes,
"Effective control over the production of tobacco and alcohol are
prerequisites to both controlling access to those drugs by teenagers
and the implementation of successful educational and discouragement

Lobbyists for the big agri-businesses growing most of the nation's
corn, cotton, rice and wheat will, as usual, use the new farm bill to
hit up tax payers for more than $11 billion in farm welfare payments
each year. Marijuana growers, on the other hand, are prospering
without handouts of any kind from Boston or Washington. That could be
good news for our debt-riddled federal government and probably a
welcome prospect in Boston as well.

What to do? The president's draft farm bill sent to Capitol Hill
earlier this year includes, in a section titled "Specialty Crop
Support," a request that Congress help the nation's potato farmers
compete in the marketplace. If Members of Congress declare the potato
a "specialty" crop deserving help, they will surely agree that
marijuana farmers also raise a specialty crop with marketplace hardships.

Here is an opportunity for Congress to begin easing marijuana into the
agricultural mainstream by replacing a failed federal policy with one
that actually controls the use of marijuana. This, in turn, will give
state lawmakers in Boston and elsewhere the green light to do likewise.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake