Good News, Bad News

| Mon Apr. 20, 2009 7:20 AM EDT

The bad news: no blogging from me on Sunday.  Sorry about that.  The good news: in its place, several thousand steaming words on marijuana legalization were produced for the summer issue of the magazine.  You can't wait to read them, can you?

By coincidence, one of the things I puzzled over a bit while I was researching my piece was the total size of the cannabis business in the United States.  Basically, the numbers I saw didn't seem to make much sense, but since I wasn't planning to use them anyway I didn't bother trying to track down the problem.  Perhaps in honor of 4/20, though, Michael Hiltzik did it for me:

Let's start, as [Jon] Gettman did, with a standard quantification of U.S. domestic cultivation today: 10,000 metric tons, or 22 million pounds. This figure has a curious history. It first appeared in a 2003 report by the Bush White House. Yet, as Gettman observed, that was nearly triple the estimate of 3,500 metric tons the feds had been using for years.

....The government backpedaled in 2007, when the Justice Department estimated the domestic crop at 5,650 to 9,417 metric tons. That's a huge margin — like saying the distance from L.A. to New York is between 1,000 and 6,000 miles.

....Gettman acknowledges that concrete information is exceedingly scarce in this field. "When you drill down, the only hard fact is they seize a lot of plants," he said.

The "soft facts" include the size in dollars of the U.S. marijuana market. Gettman's 2007 estimate of $113 billion is in the stratosphere compared with some others. In a 2001 report, the federal government pegged the black market at $10.5 billion, a discrepancy that suggests either that we became a nation of total potheads over the following few years, that pot prices experienced an inflation rate that would make the rise in college tuition look sick, or that somebody's numbers are way off.

In other words, no one really knows.  Which doesn't surprise me.  One of the things I've found out over the past few weeks is that virtually all of the research related to cannabis is, perhaps fittingly, sort of hazy.  The research is hard to do, it often points in contradictory directions, and natural experiments are hard to come by.  We know a fair amount, but our confidence level in what we know isn't all that great.

But enjoy 4/20 anyway.  Just don't blog while high, OK?

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