The Evolution and Economics of Marijuana

As a young reporter in Oregon during the ’80s (that’s where I grew up), I tagged along on dozens of marijuana raids. I would follow the local drug cops deep into the forests, where huge pot farms were growing. It was a never-ending cat-and-mouse game between authorities and growers. Thousands of plants chopped down, hauled off and burned, only to be replaced by thousands more hidden deeper in the forest.  I remember standing next to the pile of pot (some plants 10 feet tall) and asking the usual question: “What’s the street value of all this?”  The answer always boggled my mind.  Tens of millions of dollars gone up in smoke (pun intended).

A lot has changed since then, in Oregon and around the country. Oregon is one of 14 states to legalize marijuana for medical purposes (California was the first). And this year at least 14 more states will consider it, or at least lessen the penalties for possessing small amounts of pot for personal use.

You may have heard by now that the people who live in the state right below Oregon head to the polls in November to vote on whether to legalize and tax recreational use of marijuana. Hard to believe, isn’t it? But keep in mind, California is hurting financially, and so are many other states. California’s annual pot crop is worth about $14 billion, according to the State Board of Equalization. It estimates that legalization and taxation could bring in up to $1.4 billion in revenue.

As I said, a lot has changed over the years. Marijuana laws aren’t the only things to evolve. So have our feelings about pot (which may be why the laws are changing). More and more Americans have come to understand that marijuana for medical purposes is far from evil, at least according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center:

  • Nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) say they favor their state allowing the sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes, while 23% are opposed.
  • Younger Americans (80% under 30) are more likely than older people (63% over age 65) to accept medical marijuana.
  • 61% of Republicans and 80% of Democrats say it’s okay.

In each case, a vast majority favor medicinal marijuana. What about legalizing pot outright (what California is voting on)? The Pew survey (along with older surveys) is an eye-opener on the evolution of Americans’ belief toward marijuana.

  • In 1969, 84% were against making marijuana legal, while only 12% were for it.
  • Today, 52% are opposed and 41% are in favor.

For many states, the evolution of marijuana comes down to simple economics. Don’t think for a moment that California isn’t the only state that sees pot as a potential gold mine. A victory there could encourage other states to follow suit, just as they did when California approved medical marijuana. My native state could be one of them. There’s a signature gathering campaign going on there called “The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act”.

When I was much younger, even before those early reporter days of covering pot raids, we had a governor who inspired this bumper sticker slogan:

Come to think of it, maybe nothing has changed over the years.

p.s.  By the way, monster pot farms are still being busted in Oregon and California.  Last August, deputies seized more than 200,000 marijuana plants at one location.  Estimated street value?  $1 billion!

2 Comments on “The Evolution and Economics of Marijuana

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