Washington is among the top five pot-producing states, producing a $1 billion-a-year crop that is second in value only to the state's famed...

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Washington is among the top five pot-producing states, producing a $1 billion-a-year crop that is second in value only to the state’s famed apple harvest, according to an analysis released this week by a public-policy researcher.

Jon Gettman, the Virginia-based researcher who wrote the report, used government data to show that marijuana has become the biggest cash crop in the United States, bringing in more annually than corn and wheat combined.

It’s among the top three cash crops in 30 states, Gettman said. He said Washington is the nation’s fifth-largest producer, behind California, Tennessee, Kentucky and Hawaii.

Nationally, domestic marijuana production has increased 10 times over in the past 25 years, from 1,000 metric tons in 1981 to 10,000 metric tons in 2006, according to federal government estimates cited in the report.

Gettman’s study argues that the U.S. is forfeiting millions in potential tax revenue every year by criminalizing marijuana. He says proliferation of pot across the country shows the drug is a “pervasive and ineradicable part of the national economy.”

Drug-enforcement officials say they aren’t surprised by the estimates since Washington and California have traditionally been hot growth spots for marijuana. But a regional enforcement agent worries that putting a dollar figure on the crop perpetuates a “fallacy” that marijuana represents a harmless tax windfall.

Washington’s top crops (annually*)


$1.15 billion: Apples

$1.03 billion: Marijuana

$500 million: Wheat

*Based on a three-year average

“You can look at anything being a cash crop if you don’t want to make any conclusions about the damage it does,” said Dave Rodriguez, the director of the Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, a Seattle-based division of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

During the past several years, growers based in California and Mexico have taken over Washington’s outdoor pot crops, which often are hidden on public forestland in the Yakima and Chelan areas, Rodriguez said. Law enforcement eradicates about 100,000 plants a year.

In King County, indoor growing operations are becoming more common. Growers nurture a few hundred plants at a time in a single-family home and advertise the quality as similar to that of Canada’s renowned “B.C. Bud” — noted for its purity and potency.

It’s not surprising that the industry is growing in Washington, Gettman said. Well-known industries in British Columbia and Oregon bring the expertise and culture to town, he said.

“Washington is in a situation where they get information and interaction from these two areas and so it’s not that far afield … for Washington to have a thriving indoor cultivation market because they have a lot of local knowledge there,” he said.

“It’s the old real-estate maxim of location, location, location.”

Gettman’s report started with a widely used federal pot-production estimate that about 10,000 metric tons of marijuana are produced domestically every year. He divided that amount among the 50 states based on how much marijuana was seized in each state.

From that result, he estimated that Washington is the second-largest producer of indoor-grown plants, sixth-largest producer of outdoor-grown plants and fifth-largest producer overall.

Marijuana is a $1.03 billion-a-year industry in Washington, the report said, sandwiched between the $1.15 billion apple crop and the $500 million-a-year wheat crop.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Total marijuana cultivation

State

Pounds

produced

Total

value

California 8.6 million $13.8 billion
Tennessee 3 million $4.8 billion
Kentucky 2.8 million $4.5 billion
Hawaii 2.4 million $3.8 million
Washington 641,354 $1 billion
Source: “Marijuana Production in the United States (2006)” by Jon Gettman, published in The Bulletin of Cannabis Reform, December 2006