Rarely does someone conjure an idea about the San Joaquin Valley so brilliant yet so obvious that I smack my forehead and say, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?”
But Cliff Schaffer, a national marijuana advocate, shared just such a revelation after reading last week’s column about America’s woeful marijuana prohibition.
The Valley has the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression: 20 percent plus (in some areas), Schaffer began his e-mail.
Meanwhile, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, a state task force, seized about 3 million marijuana plants in 2008, with an estimated street value of almost $12 billion.
California’s total legal agricultural output is $36 billion, Schaffer said, leading up to his point.
“In other words,” Schaffer said, “if all they did was to take the plants they seized and sell them through licensed and regulated distributors, they would increase the total dollar revenue to California’s farmers by about one-third.”
And this hugely valuable mountain of seized pot is just the stuff authorities find. For Mexican drug lords, a $12 billion loss is just the cost of doing business.
“The federal government estimates that the drug lords in Mexico currently receive about $30 billion cash per year just from sales of marijuana,” Schaffer said, when I called him in Southern California.
“If we legalized marijuana and required a license and a background check, the Mexican lords would be out of business overnight.”
So would the dangerous hillbillies booby-trapping national forests.
“And,” Schaffer said, “our farmers would take over that business.”
They would? “Where’s the best place in the world to grow anything?” Schaffer asked. “The farmers of the Central Valley would own this market overnight. The Central Valley would be tens of billions richer in the first season.”
At this point in Schaffer’s argument I fell off the mule like Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. I saw the light.
Though I have long argued against America’s irrational marijuana prohibition, it never occurred to me that San Joaquin Valley farmers could actually grow the stuff legally, to stupendous profit.
About the profit. The word we want here is “obscene.”
The State Board of Equalization would gain perhaps $1.3 billion in new taxes, Schaffer estimated.
Valley cities such as Stockton, currently swirling down a budget maelstrom, would be transformed into Pleasantons by a major increase in regional agriculture earnings.
But, “For the farmers of the Central Valley, this would be the biggest economic bonanza they have ever seen,” Schaffer said.
He estimates the market for domestic pot will be roughly equivalent to the $120 billion U.S. beer market.
$120 billion: Yowsah.
California is poised to legalize pot first. Valley farmers will get in on it first. They’ll gain a Microsoft-like market share.
“This will be a race to the finish line for tens of billions of dollars,” Schaffer said.
Ironically, the Valley is the heart of political opposition to legal marijuana in California, Schaffer said.
Yes, well, about that. Valley conservatives may oppose tax increases, or gay marriage, but I guarantee they see no conflict in becoming rich as the House of Saud.
“This is what they call “enlightened self-interest,” Schaffer said.
And – let’s be real – marijuana prohibition is a failure. Half the reason people don’t abandon it is they simply fear change.
Pot’s here to stay, Schaffer said. “So you really only have two choices as to who is going to run that trade. The first choice is Al Capone. The second choice Ernest and Julio Gallo. Who do you want to have that money?”
Schaffer’s political analysis: “If the farmers in the California Central Valley go for this, then (Gov.) Schwarzenegger has to listen to them. Ditto the legislators,” Schaffer said.
“And if the state of California goes for this, then the federal government is not going to be able to stop it.”
What Schaffer envisions is nothing less than the end of the low-wage agrarian economy that mires the Valley in poverty and social problems.
“So these few people in the Central Valley are really the linchpin of this entire issue,” Schaffer said. “If they go, the world goes. And they will go, I’m sure of that.”
Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or email@example.com. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/blogs