Kansas is the land of wheat, sorghum and ... weed?
A new study that's raising eyebrows around the country suggests that the nation's top cash crop isn't corn or wheat, but marijuana. The report, published in the "Bulletin of Cannabis Reform," puts the value of the nation's marijuana crop at $35.8 billion, compared with $23.3 billion for the nation's corn crop and $7.4 billion for wheat.
The study, by Virginia-based consultant Jon B. Gettman, found Kansas to be 31st among the states in marijuana production, with a crop value estimated at $64 million.
By comparison, Kansas' wheat crop was worth $1.25 billion in 2005, and its grain-sorghum crop was valued at $317 million.
California was the No. 1 state listed for marijuana production, with a crop estimated at $13.8 billion.
The study began with a federal estimate that there are 10,000 metric tons of marijuana produced nationwide, multiplied it by a value of $1,606 per pound, and apportioned it to states based on the average seizures of cultivated marijuana plants through a federal marijuana-eradication program from 2003 to 2005.
The study describes marijuana as an "untapped source of revenue" for states that could potentially be regulated. Gettman wrote that in the past two decades, a federal marijuana-eradication program "has been unable to curtail the growth of domestic cultivation in the United States, let alone make any progress toward suppressing, abolishing or eliminating this market phenomenon."
Kansas receives a federal grant of about $230,000 per year for its marijuana eradication program, said Kyle Smith, deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. By far, the majority of the plants seized in Kansas are untended, wild-growing plants without high levels of the active ingredient in marijuana, THC.
For example, in 2005, there were 1.18 million wild marijuana plants eradicated in Kansas, compared with 3,690 cultivated plants.
The wild-growing plants, commonly known as "ditchweed," were not included in Gettman's study.
Smith, the KBI spokesman, was skeptical of the study, which was touted in a nationwide press release by the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.
"It's kind of a publicity stunt. I can't really blame them," Smith said. "They have an agenda, and they're pushing it."
He said he thinks advocates for marijuana reform are a vocal minority, and that if the nation truly wanted to change the laws related to the drug, it could have elected leaders by now to do so.
Bob Eye, a Lawrence-based attorney and a founding board member of the reform-minded Drug Policy Forum of Kansas, said he views the study as evidence the war on drugs is not working.
"It's pretty clear that the efforts by law enforcement to essentially eliminate marijuana-growing have been a failure, and on the other hand what has been a success is the capacity of growers to hone their craft and essentially make it a part of the economy," he said.
"The fact that any activity generates $35 billion worth of transactions bears very close study, and I think it also reflects the relative acceptance of marijuana in the culture."
Said Smith, "Just because a lot of people want it doesn't make it right."