Opinion 

Quick! What is the number one cash crop in America? Cotton is the number one crop, but could that change if more states legalize marijuana sales as Colorado has done?

Estimates vary, but NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) touted marijuana as the number four cash crop in a 1998 study: NORML Report on U.S. Domestic Marijuana Production. Other studies place the marijuana cash crop value at fifteenth place, at least that’s according to a team of researchers and public policy experts from Carnegie Mellon University, Pepperdine University, UCLA and the RAND Corp.

This 2006 chart ranked marijuana as the largest cash crop, with an estimated value of 35.8 billion dollars! If you continue to scroll the chart, you’ll find how marijuana compared to other crops by state using production figures from US Department of Agriculture and estimated figures for marijuana, but here’s the breakdown for Virginia:

Virginia:
Hay                 $ 304.8 million
Marijuana     $ 191.8 million
Soybeans       $ 106. 7 million

What does all that mean? Well, 50% of the population think legalizing marijuana is a good idea and 50% don’t. So 50% of American people will use these figures to show the potential for profit and taxable income from marijuana and 50% of Americans won’t care what the value is, they just will not agree it is a good idea to legalize pot.

Thinking about this after seeing a raft of photographers record the moment, left me with a lot of questions. I wonder about driving while impaired. We know the legal limit of blood alcohol and there’s a page full of questions and answers at the DMV web page. Driving while impaired seems to be the outcome, whether it is by drugs or alcohol, but what is the equivalent of a Breathalyzer for marijuana?

There is a device called SensAbues developed in Sweden and it is believed capable of determining if the driver has smoked marijuana, or used cocaine or methamphetamine. The technology is available to ensure drivers are not driving while impaired, and I hope that gets put to use whether pot is legal or not.

There were several recurring themes I encountered while I was researching this topic:

1. We are spending $8.7 billion a year nationally in law-enforcement costs to arrest, prosecute and jail marijuana violations by about 750,000 individuals. Legalization would not only save a ton of money, it would free up a lot of time devoted by law enforcement and courts.

2. Legalization creates jobs for the “good guys” (store owners, clerks, accountants, farmers, et al) while removing income from the “bad guys” (criminals and drug dealers)

3. Taxation at a rate similar to tobacco and alcohol would result in revenue of approximately $8.7 billion according to this study The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition.

When people protest legalization, the arguments generally follow a line of logic that includes: “Marijuana is a gateway drug!”

There really are very few studies that prove that statement to be true.  A Yale Study does state that adolescents who use alcohol, tobacco and marijuana are more likely to use stronger drugs as adults, but considering that over 1.5 million teenagers are smoking pot, I think that train has already left the station. I also think teens using alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana already have an addictive personality and that must be addressed.

So, what do Potomac Local readers think? Is legalization a good idea or not?

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