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February 24, 2006 - Spokesman-Review (WA)

Marijuana's Not Just A Token Crop

By Frank Sennett, Correspondent

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Aplets, Cotlets and... Potlets?

That last product doesn't exist -- yet. But when you consider how high marijuana unofficially floats on the list of Washington's top cash crops, it's not much of a stretch to imagine the state's famed candied fruits someday facing a THC-laced competitor.

Pot seized statewide last year had an estimated value of $270 million -- "enough marijuana plants to rank the illegal weed as Washington state's No. 8 agricultural commodity," the Associated Press concluded last week.

That would place the value of seized pot above the state's combined tart and sweet cherry crop, which hit an estimated $242 million in 2004.

No wonder we're called the Evergreen State.

Now here's where it gets interesting.

Cops estimate they only snare about half the harvest. So Washington's total 2005 pot output could have been worth $540 million, based on official estimates.

Compare that to the 2004 value of the state's top five agricultural commodities, as ranked by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Apples reigned supreme here with a $962 million value of production. Meanwhile, milk topped $861 million, wheat was worth $524 million, cattle hit $476 million and potatoes were good for $460 million.

After making the necessary apples-to-pot comparison of 2004 commodity output versus the estimated value of our 2005 marijuana crop, ganja unofficially vaults over wheat to rank a buzz-worthy No. 3. Only apples and milk still prove more potent.

But wait a second. Cops are notorious for inflating the street value of drugs they confiscate. They also might be overestimating the percentage of the pot crop they seized. (They could even be underestimating it in a bid to wrangle more enforcement resources.)

So that leaves us with some pretty hazy numbers. But there's still a decent chance pot is one of the state's top five crops.

And one thing not in dispute is the fact that most of it is grown right here on the East Side.

Illegal or not, pot production makes a significant economic impact on our region. Having the authorities seize about half the crop lessens that impact, of course, as does the cost of arresting, trying and jailing nonviolent drug offenders.

But we're missing out on pot's economic potency in another area as well: tax receipts.

"Every vice, once it's regulated, becomes a cash cow," notes Roger Goodman, drug policy director for the King County Bar Association.

He cites a recent analysis by Boston University economist Jeffrey Miron that suggests Washington would net at least $22 million in annual tax revenues and cost savings by lifting the pot prohibition.

We could plow the criminal-justice savings into treatment and anti-smoking education programs and still come out way ahead.

"Why do we leave it up to criminals to reap untaxed, unregulated profits" from marijuana sales -- especially when the state already makes a bundle from liquor taxes and lottery receipts? Goodman asks.

Now tell me the idea of legalizing, regulating and taxing the state's No. 3 crop is half-baked.

Read Frank's Blog at

© Copyright 2006 The Spokesman-Review

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