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Marijuana Is California's Largest Cash Crop, Worth About $14-Billion

Cynthia Balderas, Helen Tobin |
October 19, 2010 | 1:11 p.m. PDT

Associate News Editor, Staff Reporter

Marijuana (Creative Commons)
Marijuana (Creative Commons)
Marijuana is the largest cash crop in the United States coming in at an estimate of $35.8 billion a year, but in California alone, the value of its 8.6 million-pound harvest is worth about $14 billion, according to newly released state reports

Pot brings in more than grapes in California, more than tobacco in the Carolinas, and more than cotton in Alabama. Nationally, it earns more than wheat and corn combined. 

Back in 2006 a report released by NORML, a pro-marijuana legalization organization, estimated the $35.8 billion figure through data released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement – which estimated a 22 million pound national distribution of the drug (roughly $100 an ounce).

There is no official figure because marijuana is illegal except in 14 states and the District of Columbia where it is permitted only for medical use. 

But this can all change on Nov. 2 for California if the Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, also known as Proposition 19, passes.

If the state electorate approves Proposition 19, it will allow local government to regulate and tax the cultivation of marijuana, but cities that opt out will be able to maintain the drug illegal. The law will allow individuals 21 years of age or older to grow 25 square feet, process and possess, and transport and share only an ounce of the substance, as reported by the International Business Times. 

For the last few weeks, increasing campaigns for and against Prop 19 have been battling it out and passage is not a sure thing at the moment. 

But one thing is on many people’s minds. If Prop 19 were to pass it could give young people easier access to the substance. 

Former surgeon, Doctor Joycelyn Elders said she feels that it is time to legalize marijuana.

In terms of young people gaining access, she said, “I wish I knew how to keep it out of the hands of young people. They are getting it now. Many will tell you it is easier to get marijuana than to get alcohol.”

Young people are already able to get the substance, and by legalizing the drug, it will hopefully minimize drug violence, as reported by CBS News

In addition, many reports released, such as the one released by the RAND Corporation, show that Mexican drug cartels will not be impacted if Prop 19 were to pass. 

On the other hand, a study released late last week by the RAND Corporation said, “Legalizing marijuana in California will not dramatically reduce the drug revenues collected by Mexican drug trafficking organizations from sales to the United States.” 

In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Robert Bonner, former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said that he did not believe that Proposition 19 will weaken the Mexican drug cartels, instead it will “force the drug networks to diversity – redoubling efforts on cocaine and methamphetamine and perhaps increasing ‘kidnappings and extortion’ in Mexico.”

“They are criminal organizations and they don’t go away,” Bonner said, “To the extent you take away their revenues a little bit, they [Mexican cartels] will make it up in other activities.”

"The cartels will only shift to other crimes, as they have been doing in Mexico. If they lose full ground in the Marijuana trade, then people will see an increase in extortion, human trafficking, kidnapping and the trafficking of harder drugs. Most likely, these violent criminals will not stop what they are doing and go out and seek legal employment," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein in an interview with San Jose Mercury News

The only way Mexican drug cartels will feel a financial sting is if California decides to actively chase a future in “smuggling” pot to the rest of the U.S.

In a report released by the Rand Drug Policy Research Center, Californians consume about 14 percent of the marijuana used in the country every year. 

Financial impact will only be a 2 to 4 percent limitation for Mexican drug cartels if Proposition 19 were to pass on November 2. 



To reach Associate Editor Cynthia Balderas, click here. Follow her on Twitter @CVBalderas
To reach reporter Helen Tobin, click here. Follow her on Twitter @HelenTobin.
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