Herb appeal

Dear Ace: I heard Virginia has a new No. 1 cash crop. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned Jamestown tobacky?—Mary Jane Noes

Dear Mary: Ace knows Virginians love tradition, especially in Mr. Jefferson’s neighborhood. But tobacco, the mainstay crop of the Commonwealth since the 1600s, has been steadily declining and this year a new top crop was crowned.

   And the winner is…soybeans?

   Strange but true. Tobacco yielded about $113 million in cash receipts in 2004, while the triumphant legume raked in a cool $124 million. As the hippies sang, “Times, they are a-changin’.”

   Tobacco probably won’t soon regain No. 1 status, but Ace unearthed another set of statistics that suggests that those hippies helped supplant Virginia’s historical cash-crop king as early as 1998.

   That was the year the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) released a study of every state’s Top 10 cash crops and declared that, actually, the wacky tobacky ruled Virginia. Ace notes there has not yet been a corollary study on the possible increase in Funyuns sales in the Commonwealth, and as soon as Ace finds his Visine he’ll look into why.

   According to NORML’s study, the production value of marijuana in Virginia that year was roughly $197 million, with an estimated street value of $2,592 per pound. Apparently there’s been a price spike since Ace graduated.

   Paul Armentano of NORML told Ace he believes the statistics would stack up similarly today, and that a less forthcoming Drug Enforcement Agency could be blamed for a lack of available data with which to conduct a more up-to-date study. But don’t let the not-quite immediacy of the data alter your perception (leave that to your roaches!). Ace did a little math and came up with a mini-study of his own.

   If marijuana brought in $197 million across the state in 1997, a $73 million drop would be required to bring it in line with soybeans’ $124 million haul last year. Based on the 1997 street price per pound, and not accounting for inflation, there would have had to be roughly 28,000 fewer pounds of marijuana available in 2004 than there was in 1997 for such a loss to occur.

   Digging further into Ace’s sack o’ facts, data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2003 and 2004 sourcebooks indicate that the total pounds of bulk marijuana seized in Virginia those years was 3,396 and 1,452, respectively. Ace’s conclusion: The DEA hasn’t collected nearly enough weight to force the wacky weed to slip to No. 2.

   Any stoner can tell you that weed is king, but Ace wanted to hear it from The Man himself. Predictably, the DEA harshed Ace’s mellow with hold music and answering machines, and so the debate lingers like the stale smell of dirty bong water. The only certainty is that tobacco is no longer on top, and you can’t smoke a soybean.

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