An Easy Way To Save Tens of Billions In Government Dollars: Legalize Marijuana – Part 2

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World War Two hemp flyer.

From Global Hemp:

Hemp, Industrial Hemp, Agricultural Hemp are all common names for a crop that is grown globally for food, fiber, and industrial uses. Taxonomically, the crop is classified as Cannabis sativa L. This is where the controversy comes in as Cannabis has been wrongly and broadly characterized in the past century only as marijuana.

In fact, Cannabis is a very diverse plant species that includes hundreds of identified varieties. “Marijuana” of course is a slang term for all Cannabis breeds that are legislated as a controlled substance.

Now here is the illogical and indefensible legal position of the Federal Government on industrial hemp.

In America today, growing hemp is prohibited, though it is legal to import, manufacture, purchase, and consume.

The majority of hemp and hemp seed that is used in North America is grown and processed in Canada. Canada has developed its production rules from the standards developed by the European Union, and has arguably arrived at the highest global regulatory standard.

And once again just for the record, from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol or Yes On Prop 64 in Colorado which passed in the November 2012 elections:

Hemp is genetically similar to marijuana, but it contains less than 0.3% of the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is illegal to produce in the US because our current laws do not distinguish between the two. Amendment 64 creates separate definitions for marijuana and industrial hemp.

The US is the only industrialized nation in the world that prohibits the commercial production of hemp, and more hemp is exported to the US than to any other country.

Even more bizarre, the Religious Right and the extreme political right get all stirred up about legalizing hemp since they claim it is the same as marijuana — even though I am certain they know better. But it’s a great fund raising tool. And rumor in Washington DC has it that the Christian Right has a strong foothold in the Drug Enforcement Administration. They don’t want any drugs legalized since they might get downsized.

Why is the growing of hemp a political/religious issue? It’s crazy. Everything gets politicized in this country even if there isn’t a reason. The best analogy I can think of is the growing of tomatoes. We should ban tomatoes from being grown. Why? They are members of the deadly nightshade family of plants. Of course, tomatoes themselves, unlike other plants from the nightshade family, are not poisonous. But since they are a split off from the genus of nightshade plants, then we should ban them to discourage people from what? Eating nightshade itself which will kill you?

Excerpt from Herer “Emperor Wears No Clothes” 1991 edition p. 136.

About 6% of contiguous United States land area put into cultivation for biomass could supply all current demands for oil and gas.

Growing industrial hemp in the USA could provide employment and create a sustainable and economical product which has hundreds of uses. Yet it is illegal.

Conservative US Senator Mitch McConnell has changed his position on growing hemp. The Senator says he wants to help Kentucky farmers. Hemp would give them another cash crop to grow since there is large demand in the US for industrial hemp. McConnell is also in a tight re-election race. But I don’t care why he changed his mind. I’m just glad he did. You can read the whole story at the National Journal.

A hemp harvest in Switzerland.

My question: how can anyone think that prohibiting the cultivation of industrial hemp is rational – never mind marijuana? Industrial hemp is easy to grow organically and doesn’t damage the soil as much as other crops. Of course, I’m certain the following information I came across from Independent Australia, a online investigative journal, has nothing to do with the prohibition of growing industrial hemp in the United States.

…industrial hemp does not need fertilizers — thereby explaining the aggressive and threatening multi-billion dollar opposition to the product from Monsanto, DuPont, and other petrochemical companies throughout the world.

Even more absurd than the situation in the USA, is the situation in Australia as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald of June 19th, 2011:

…while Australians can grow industrial hemp but not eat it, Americans can eat it but not grow it. So the lot has to be imported, mostly from Canada.

Hemp seeds

Manufacturers in the USA import hemp to make textiles, rope, soap, body lotion, clothing, and foods of various types. (Automobile makers also use it as part of the fiber to make car seats.) Seeds from the hemp plant contain large amounts of protein, dietary fiber, and rich omega fatty acid oil. It’s good for you! If you are curious about the nutritional value of hemp, which is significant you can read more at Precision Nutrition.

The Sydney Morning Herald article goes even further: Hemp is: “The most nutritional grain for human consumption”. Let’s face it, we are slowly coming to the end of the “meat age” in the Western world. I like chicken and I love a good steak and I salivate over fried bacon. But the cost to the environment and to our own health is such that we will see meat slowly decline as a percentage of our diet and more and more of our protein will come from crops like hemp. So what are we waiting for?

Behind these groundbreaking walls is an idea – we should be free to live in an environment that is non-toxic; one that helps clean rather than contaminate the air, the earth, and our bodies. That was the pivotal point of my conversation with design/builder Anthony Brenner on his house made from hemcrete based on industrial hemp – the first in the US. The home has seen a meteoritic rise in the media, with coverage by CNN and USA Today, and even late night TV, but behind the headlines and punchlines shouting out about the latest and greatest green material is a home that fulfills the core concerns of an environmentally-sensitive habitat. With that lens his company Push Design was able to build a great home that is sizable but incredibly light on the environment, energy usage, and total cost.

The first home in the US made from hemcrete based on industrial hemp. Yes, you can even build houses from hemp. Building homes with hemp? Yes, this is done. I was taken aback. Hemp? To build a house? Well, not the entire house but large parts of it. Compressed hemp can function easily as wood does in a house and grows four times faster than trees. Once again from Independent Australia:

Time for Australia to embrace industrial hemp

A complete house can be built with industrial hemp, as it can be made into any building material — including fiberboard, roofing, flooring, wallboard, caulking, cement, paint, paneling, particleboard, plaster, plywood, reinforced concrete, insulation, insulation panels, spray on insulation, concrete pipes, bricks, and biodegradable plastic composites which are tougher than steel. The hardened material is resistant to rotting, rodents, insects, and fire. It is many times lighter than cement and provides both thermal and sound insulation.

Hemp-foundation homes are ecologically appropriate because they are inexpensive and can be prepared on site using only a cement mixer because the material is cheap and abundant. Hemp building material could allow us to replace the need for wood, bricks, and fiberglass insulation. The market potential for hemp in building materials for home and industry is gigantic. (my italics) Once hemp can be grown on a large, economically competitive, scale, manufacturers will see that it outperforms other natural fibers due to its length and strength.

Building and construction materials are sourced from the hemp plant’s tough fibers. These include the bast fibers (or “bark”), composed of 53-74 per cent cellulose and also the interior “hurd”.

(BTW, didn’t the United States previously lead the world in new ideas and breakthroughs? I guess we gave up on doing that. These days many of our citizens seem proud of their provincial outlook and lack of knowledge about the world.)

Hemcrete House. This forms the core of a breathable wall system – Hemcrete is actually less like concrete and more like infill straw bale, as it is non-structural.

So how much cold, hard cash could we expect from legalizing marijuana? A lot. So far the best statistical analysis on this question has been done by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron in a report titled Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States. And these are minimum figures, not maximum figures.

The Miron Report estimates that legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. $5.3 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $2.4 billion would accrue to the federal government.

The report also estimates that marijuana legalization would yield tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like all other goods and/or $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.

“One Toke Over The Line”

You can download his updated report from 2010 on the cost of trying to prohibit illegal street drugs titled The Budgetary Implications of Drug Prohibition.

Based on Professor Miron’s report, originally issued in 2005, I note the following article dated April 26th 2012 in the ACLU blog on criminal law reform:

Hundreds of Economists: Marijuana Prohibition Costs Billions, Legalization Would Earn Billions

Over 300 economists, including three Nobel Laureates, recently signed a petition that encourages the president, Congress, governors and state legislatures to carefully consider marijuana legalization in America. The petition draws attention to an article by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, whose findings highlight the substantial cost-savings our government could incur if it were to tax and regulate marijuana, rather than needlessly spending billions of dollars enforcing its prohibition.

Legalizing marijuana and taxing it would have an even greater and more beneficial influence on society. First, by legalizing marijuana, we can tax it just like states and the Federal government tax tobacco products. And Federal, state and local governments, could use this revenue for education, most importantly community college education which does the heavy lifting for actual job training in this country.

Money spent with such lack of effect on trying to stop marijuana production and consumption, could be spent on truly dangerous drug problems like meth (or crank) which is not only devastating to a person’s health, but is dangerous to make and incredibly polluting. Stop pulling up marijuana plants and start closing down meth labs.

Additional statistics on cold, hard cash savings from legalizing marijuana in just the state of Washington alone are staggering. Initiative 502 which legalizes the use of recreational marijuana, passed with more than 55% of the vote in Washington State in November of 2012. In this editorial below in favor of the Amendment, the Seattle Times provides the following rationale and figures for Washington State, which has a population of almost seven million:

…the state Office of Financial Management estimated possible marijuana-tax revenue in the year ending June 30, 2015, at $434 million. That’s comparable with the state’s take from the cigarette tax ($425 million in fiscal 2012) and the state and local take from liquor ($426 million in 2011).

There are also sales and business taxes. OFM estimated the total state and local government revenue from marijuana at $566 million. That’s roughly what the state budgets in taxpayer money for its six universities.

Legalize marijuana now. Said French philosopher Victor Hugo: “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” And this is an idea whose time has come.

[Sources: Global Hemp, Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol or Yes On Prop 64 in Colorado, Hemp For You, National Journal, Independent Australia, Sydney Morning Herald, Precision Nutrition, Inhabitat, Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States, The Budgetary Implications of Drug Prohibition, ACLU blog, and Seattle Times. Images courtesy of Global Hemp, Hemp For You, National Journal, Hemp Foods Australia, Inhabitat, Inhabitat, and Live Science.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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