New study on marijuana legalization weighs $35 billion tax revenue estimate

Marijuana could be America’s No. 1 cash crop — raking in more money than corn, wheat and soy — and could bring in billions in tax revenue, advocates for its legalization will tell you.

It would be worth as much as a whopping $35 billion, if you believe the former director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Of course, that would be a boon to cash-strapped governments, which are slashing city jobs and releasing inmates early in an effort to save money, as Michael Montgomery at California Watch points out.

Now, new research concludes marijuana is far from the No. 1 most lucrative crop.

It’s more like No. 15, behind almonds and hay, a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, Pepperdine University, UCLA and the RAND Corp write in “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

Montgomery sums up their findings:

No one can know the actual value of the domestic marijuana crop with any certainty, as most cultivation is hidden in the shadows, all the more since federal prosecutors began cracking down in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The authors’ best guess is that it’s worth about $2.1 billion to $4.3 billion.

That’s closer in line to a Harvard economics professor’s study published in 2005. In it, Jeffrey A. Miron estimated the legalization would rake in $2.4 billion in tax revenue — plus save governments $7.7 billion a year to not enforce the law.

But does it even matter in this debate?

When Assemblyman Tom Ammiano proposed legislation in 2009 to legalize marijuana in California, he argued it would bring billions of dollars into the state.

Voters still knocked down the referendum, 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent.