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††Marijuana Valuations in C.A. are Hallucinations

Posted by CN Staff on April 19, 2009 at 20:21:28 PT
By Michael Hiltzik†
Source: Los Angeles Times †

California -- The first time I heard the claim that marijuana was California's biggest cash crop, I thought nothing of it. Nor the second time, or the third. Round about the 15th time, when it became evident that the claim had gained the status of received wisdom, I took notice.Two things immediately occurred to me. One: Sez who? Two: Whoever it is, what is he smoking?
Valuations of illicit activity, whether it's drug sales, street crime or porn distribution, are notoriously fantasy-ridden. After all, it's hard to track cash businesses disinclined to release timely financial results.Yet the media accept such figures as gospel. In the last few months, marijuana's supposed top rank in California agriculture has appeared in newspapers across the country, including this one,and been cited on CNN and NBC. Often it's accompanied by other turbo-charged stats, to the effect that the value of the state crop is $14 billion, part of a nationwide marijuana trade worth more than $100 billion a year (including imports).I'm sure it's coincidental that these figures are appearing just when the pot lobby has discovered that the fiscal argument for legalization has acquired real traction among cash-strapped state legislatures. In Sacramento, where a legalization bill has been introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), state officials say that taxing weed could bring in more than $1 billion a year.Here's my view on the right approach to all such statistics: Forget you heard them."We're talking real broad strokes here," Jon Gettman, a former president and national director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told me last week.Gettman's words should be heeded. He's the man who, in a 2006 study, first anointed marijuana as Californiaís king crop. In the paper he essentially piles one guesstimate upon another to obtain a number that looks, but isn't, factual.Let's start, as Gettman did, with a standard quantification of U.S. domestic cultivation today: 10,000 metric tons, or 22 million pounds. This figure has a curious history. It first appeared in a 2003 report by the Bush White House. Yet, as Gettman observed, that was nearly triple the estimate of 3,500 metric tons the feds had been using for years.Why the sudden change? No one is sure. Maybe crop estimating techniques suddenly entered a golden age. Maybe marijuana growers all decided to grow three plants where they had grown one. Or maybe anti-dope zealots in the White House thought the old number looked too paltry.The government backpedaled in 2007, when the Justice Department estimated the domestic crop at 5,650 to 9,417 metric tons. That's a huge margin -- like saying the distance from L.A. to New York is between 1,000 and 6,000 miles.The agency, it seems, added up the total amount of marijuana reported seized by law-enforcement agencies and guessed at the percentage of the total crop the cops had found. Its analysts figured the ratio was 30% to 50%, but didn't say how they came to that conclusion or, for that matter, why it might not be 10%, or 90%.In his paper, Gettman used a ratio of about 10%, a rule of thumb he validated partially by observing that it translated the 1,215 metric tons seized in 2001 into a figure for total cultivation "consistent with the federal government's widely reported estimate of 10,000 metric tons." So it seems he accepted one conjectural number in part because it validated another conjectural number.Gettman acknowledges that concrete information is exceedingly scarce in this field. "When you drill down, the only hard fact is they seize a lot of plants," he said.The "soft facts" include the size in dollars of the U.S. marijuana market. Gettman's 2007 estimate of $113 billion is in the stratosphere compared with some others. In a 2001 report, the federal government pegged the black market at $10.5 billion, a discrepancy that suggests either that we became a nation of total potheads over the following few years, that pot prices experienced an inflation rate that would make the rise in college tuition look sick, or that somebody's numbers are way off.We should keep in mind that purveyors of statistics about illicit activity often inflate them -- whether to claim legitimacy for the activity, or (if they are law-enforcement agencies) to frighten voters into supporting funding for more officers, guns and helicopters.Indeed, one goal of Gettman's 2006 paper was to prove that prohibition was a waste of money by showing that the war on drugs hadn't prevented the pot crop from growing explosively. That would give him an incentive to both low-ball the seizure ratio and high-ball the total crop. I'm not saying he did so, only that we shouldn't be entirely shocked that the figures he settled on happened to support his position.On the basic issue of whether marijuana should be legalized, there are reasonable arguments on both sides. Prohibition does place a huge burden on all levels of government -- tens of billions of dollars a year squandered on arresting, trying and jailing sellers and users -- not to mention the lives ruined for what is largely a victimless crime.But the toll from dependency on the legal drugs of alcohol and tobacco is also heavy. Legalization advocates argue that regulating rather than criminalizing pot would give us tools to combat underage use, a precursor to lifelong drug abuse. On the other hand, allowing the master marketers at, say, Philip Morris and Anheuser-Busch to hawk yet another mind-altering product wouldn't be a great way to encourage "responsible" use. (Thatís why UCLA public policy expert Mark Kleiman, for one, advocates limiting any legal market to nonprofit consumer co-ops.)The real danger is that voters, overcome by pot-inspired visions of dancing dollar signs, will make their judgment about the legal status of the drug without fully considering these pros and cons. The truth is, no one really knows how much money legalization might earn for the public purse, or whether the gains would outweigh the costs. If you're proffered the argument that the best reason to legalize marijuana is that it's a guaranteed budgetary windfall, my advice is: Don't inhale.Michael Hiltzik's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)Author: Michael HiltzikPublished: April 20, 2009Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles TimesContact: letters latimes.comWebsite: http://www.latimes.com/URL: http://drugsense.org/url/LpHwySCrCannabisNews -- Cannabis Archiveshttp://cannabisnews.com/news/list/cannabis.shtml

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Comment #9 posted by FoM on April 20, 2009 at 08:31:43 PT
George
The tax on cigarettes is really bad. I think it's a cruel joke for people that smoke. I don't want to see the same thing happen to marijuana. I don't know why a monstrous tax is even being thought about.
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Comment #8 posted by George Servantes on April 20, 2009 at 07:50:26 PT
FoM
OK sister, I apologize. I am too against high so called sin taxes, it should be taxed just like tomatoes I guess. I don't smoke tobacco but I am against this outrageous taxes and fight against tobacco. I don't think tobacco cause cancer, I believe it's chemicals they put in tobacco.
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Comment #7 posted by FoM on April 20, 2009 at 05:59:50 PT
 George
Some people will not be able to grow their own and I understand. If people rent they probably won't get permission to grow so I believe a basic sales tax would be fine but not a $50 an ounce sin tax.PS: Just call me sister! LOL!
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Comment #6 posted by George Servantes on April 20, 2009 at 05:24:15 PT
FoM
You are right my brother, God gave as this herb as gift so we can get back to him - or tune back to him, and also as a spiritual sacrament and medication for soul, mind and spirit.But I am not against taxation of it as long as they allow us to grow our own in our backyards. You know they will always be some people who can't be able or won't bother to grow and they will buy it. This is all fine with me, and same thing is with tomatoes most of us can grow them but we are too lazy.But also I am against high sin taxes like they put on alcohol and tobacco, that's not fair at all.
Have a happy 4:20. ;-)
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on April 20, 2009 at 04:40:05 PT

The GCW
As far as the money reason I do understand. When people can grow their own it won't cost much. People will share it with friends like they did many years ago. Taxing marijuana is what I don't understand because how will poor people afford to buy it? The government takes so much money from people with sin taxes that it seems immoral to me to try to make marijuana a taxable commodity. It's an Herb not a man made drug. God put Cannabis on the earth so why should man use it to take more money from God's children?PS: Even if a person doesn't believe in a higher power my logic should still make some sense I hope.
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Comment #4 posted by Hope on April 20, 2009 at 03:37:41 PT

A Very Good Reason to end the "War".
http://victims.drugwarrant.com
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Comment #3 posted by The GCW on April 19, 2009 at 21:28:32 PT

To Me, I understand the $ reason
The only problem with the money reason is that some people don't think it applies and then discount the notion of RE-legalizing the plant.Thus:"If you're proffered the argument that the best reason to legalize marijuana is that it's a guaranteed budgetary windfall, my advice is: Don't inhale."SO, the argument to stop caging humans for using cannabis DOES NOT HINGE ON ECONOMICS.But it's certainly one of the reasons to stop the cagings; -It is not affordable... Society can not afford to cage all the people who use the plant. -And to some people that point does hit home....and even the economic argument has many facets...-0-One of My biggest disappointments about the issue however, is Christians who want certain people to continue to sit on the back of the bus... or even get off the bus, or go to jail...When My fellow Christians partake in this discrimination, it hurts the most.

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Comment #2 posted by FoM on April 19, 2009 at 20:58:47 PT

The GCW
The moral reason I understand the money reason doesn't register with me. I have a one track mind I suppose.
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Comment #1 posted by The GCW on April 19, 2009 at 20:42:25 PT

Sorry, 
"I'm sure it's coincidental that these figures are appearing just when the pot lobby has discovered that the fiscal argument for legalization """"""Truth is, cannabis has been referred to as Cal's #1 crop for many many years.Not just recently for the economic argument.Economics or not, it is a right moral decission to stop caging responsible adults for using the God-given plant. -Especially since it is relatively safe and socially acceptable...-0-Economic - Moral etc...***One reason that doesn't get mentioned though is HUGE!-is because it will lower deadly hard drug addiction rates.DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) will have to stop brainwashing youth into believing lies, half-truths and propaganda concerning cannabis, which creates grave future problems. How many citizens try cannabis and realize it's not nearly as harmful as taught in DARE type government environments? Then they think other substances must not be so bad either, only to become addicted to deadly drugs. The old lessons make cannabis out to be among the worst substances in the world, even though it's less addictive than coffee and has never killed a single person. The federal government even classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance along with heroin, while methamphetamine and cocaine are only Schedule II substances. For the health and welfare of America's children and adults that dangerous and irresponsible message absolutely must change. Further, regulated cannabis sales would make it so citizens who purchase it would not come into contact with people who often also sell hard drugs which would lower hard drug addiction rates. 
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