Weeding through the value of the nation's cash crops, a study released today states that marijuana is the U.S.'s most valuable crop and promotes the drug's legalization and taxation.
Drug enforcement officials say the equation is not that simple.
The report, "Marijuana Production in the United States," by marijuana policy researcher Jon Gettman, concludes that despite massive eradication efforts at the hands of the federal government, "marijuana has become a pervasive and ineradicable part of the national economy."
In the report, Gettman, a marijuana-reform activist and leader of the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, champions a system of legal regulation.
Contrasting government figures for traditional crops -- like corn and wheat -- against the study's projections for marijuana production, the report cites marijuana as the top cash crop in 12 states and among the top three cash crops in 30.
The study estimates that marijuana production, at a value of $35.8 billion, exceeds the combined value of corn ($23.3 billion) and wheat ($7.5 billion).
To activists for marijuana legalization, the study confirms a position they've held for years, and uses government stats to support their claim.
"The fact that marijuana is America's No. 1 cash crop after more than three decades of governmental eradication efforts is the clearest illustration that our present marijuana laws are a complete failure," says Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington D.C., a group that focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use.
Kampia, whose comments were included in the study's press release, adds, "Our nation's laws guarantee that 100 percent of the proceeds from marijuana sales go to unregulated criminals rather than to legitimate businesses that pay taxes to support schools, police and roads."
A 2005 analysis by Harvard visiting professor Jeffrey Miron estimates that if the United States legalized marijuana, the country would save $7.7 billion in law enforcement costs and could generated as much as $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like alcohol or tobacco.
Miron's report on the costs of marijuana prohibition was signed by more than 500 leading economists, most notably the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, who served as an economist in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations.
Aside from the health debate over legalizing marijuana, Garrison Courtney, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency, says groups that advocate its taxation sometimes paint too rosy a picture.
"It's still a drug," Courtney says. "Just because it's a good cash crop doesn't mean you should legalize and tax it."
"It's not these cute mom-and-pop bong shops anymore," Courtney continued. "It's violent drug-trafficking groups that are doing all these grows."
Local marijuana growers, he says, are the tentacles of international drug-trafficking organizations that bring weapons, violence and a slew of other drugs into the market.
"You can't tax a Mexican drug trafficking group," Courtney explains. "That's the side a lot of people don't focus on."