Is marijuana our next cash crop?

oregon cannabis business council

The Oregon State Fair made history this year: It was the first state fair to allow live marijuana plants on display.

Not exactly how I’d like my state fair to enter the record books, but the state voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2014, and now the Oregon Canabis Business Council has nine pot plants on display at the state fair.

According to the Associated Press, the exhibit was in a semi-transparent tent, and both the entrance and exit were monitored, with fairgoers showing a 21-and-older ID to get in.

The state’s recreational “grow sites,” as the AP calls them, are recognized as farm crops. The state reported it had received $25.5 million in taxes on recreational marijuana since January.

Funny thing, though, recreational marijuana is still banned by the federal government.

Pleasure vs. pain

On a not-so-funny note, the state-by-state debate over medical marijuana use has created a confusing patchwork of laws and loopholes. We have a good explanation of many of them, including Ohio’s new law, in this issue.

An estimated 2.7 million people use medical marijuana, according to data based on a household survey from the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Most patients who use medical marijuana do so for pain relief.

There are lots of questions about the validity of that pain relief, but there are few answers, largely because there is little research on the benefits of medical marijuana. Research gets complicated because scientists must get clearance from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Still, medical marijuana use and policies are at a crossroads. Which brings us to a long article in this paper about marijuana, and an exhibit at the Oregon State Fair with pot plants. Never thought I’d see either.
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As they say, politics makes strange bedfellows. Well, so does activism. When a news release came from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I opened the email for a quick skim. But instead of a plea for renewed environmental protection, I found instead a push to eat less meat.

“If everyone ate less meat we could save the Bay in a jiff,” the headline proclaims.

When journalists write about scientific studies, it is pounded into our heads that “correlation doesn’t imply causation.” No doubt, nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, and sediment pollution contribute to water quality issues, but according to the Foundation’s own 2013 fact sheet: “According to the USEPA, manure contributes only a fraction of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution entering into Pennsylvania streams that flow to the Chesapeake Bay.”

Yes, raising feed crops like corn and soybeans also impacts the watershed, and eating less meat would theoretically reduce demand for those acres. But according to the USDA, more than 50 commodities are produced in this region, including fruits and vegetables and a growing nursery and greenhouse industry — farms that also shoulder responsibility for reducing the introduction of nutrients into the Bay.

“The most effective practices to reduce pollution inputs of nutrients to the Chesapeake Bay focus around controlling the rate, timing, method and form of nutrient application,” writes the Environmental Protection Agency in a 2010 guidance.

But if everyone ate less meat, we could save the Bay in a jiff.

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