Reefer madness

The medical marijuana business in California is a complex network of laws, brokers, doctors, and roughly 200,000 patients statewide.

Published July 29, 2008 8:23PM (EDT)

There's a great investigative piece by David Samuels in the latest New Yorker about the medical marijuana business in California. Samuels introduces us to a variety of characters whose names have been changed, but whose everyday nicknames -- Captain Blue, Cindy99 -- are alone worth the read. But medical marijuana is no joke; it's a serious business. Samuels:

Most researchers agree that the value of the U.S. marijuana crop has increased sharply since the mid-nineties, as California and twelve other states have passed medical-marijuana laws. A drug-policy analyst named Jon Gettman recently estimated that in 2006 Californians grew more than twenty million pot plants. He reckoned that between 1981 and 2006 domestic marijuana production increased tenfold, making pot the leading cash crop in America, displacing corn. A 2005 State Department report put the country's marijuana crop at twenty-two million pounds. The street value of California’s crop alone may be as high as fourteen billion dollars.

Anyway, those are just the basic, albeit mind-altering stats. For the fascinating details on the tension between state and federal authorities, and how the network of growers, carriers, doctors and “pot brokers” functions -- and sometimes how it doesn't -- read the entire piece. I highly (Beavis voiceover: "he-huh, he said highly") recommend it.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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