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Growing an Economy by Growing Weed

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Investors rocked world markets this week by selling Spanish bonds  because of doubts about the country’s ability to put in place an austerity program. As prices plummeted, one small Catalonian village tried to think global and act local. It voted for a novel agricultural measure to work its way out of a €1.3 million debt hole and provide a few jobs.

A referendum that endorsed the growing of cannabis as a means to bolster finances of Rasquera, a municipality of  about 900 less than 100 miles from Barcelona, received a solid majority. The final tally: 308 yays in counterpoint to 239 against.

The plan stipulates that a pro-cannabis group, the Barcelona Personal Use Cannabis Association, would rent 17 acres of public land in exchange for a sum equivalent to the debt load.  Holding  small amounts of marijuana for your own consumption is legal in Spain.

The prospects for a new cash crop alongside the olives and grapes in the area still remains a bit muddy. Mayor Bernat Pellisa had threatened to resign and scrap the project  if the vote was less than 75 percent. It was 56. But afterward Pellisa equivocated. Officials of the national government are not happy with the whole situation and may move to block any attempt to set up a local pot industry.

So what does cannabis cultivation have to do with science—or at least the dismal side of it? Mayor Pellisa views the world very much like Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, who has written (pdf) that legalizing drugs would address many of the scourges that accompany the illegal trade. Legalization would put a damper on the violent crime that accompanies street sales while bringing needed revenue to government coffers, similar to  what happened after Prohibition lifted. Municipalities elsewhere, not to mention a multitude of growers and users, must be thinking carefully about whether local events in Spain have global relevance in places like, say, northern California.

Source: Wikimedia Commons




Gary Stix About the Author: Gary Stix, a senior editor, commissions, writes, and edits features, news articles and Web blogs for SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. His area of coverage is neuroscience. He also has frequently been the issue or section editor for special issues or reports on topics ranging from nanotechnology to obesity. He has worked for more than 20 years at SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, following three years as a science journalist at IEEE Spectrum, the flagship publication for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He has an undergraduate degree in journalism from New York University. With his wife, Miriam Lacob, he wrote a general primer on technology called Who Gives a Gigabyte? Follow on Twitter @@gstix1.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. DougAlder 9:55 pm 04/14/2012

    Given that the whole world-wide anti-marijuana legislation started as a reaction by the US steel (vis a vis Henry Ford’s hemp car – see, cotton and pulp&paper industries against the growing of hemp, conflated with rabid racism, there is no legitimate reason for it to ever have been made illegal, and certainly not for its continued illegality.

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  2. 2. malcolmkyle 6:35 am 04/15/2012


    Federal researchers implanted several types of cancer, including leukemia and lung cancers, in mice, then treated them with cannabinoids (unique, active components found in marijuana). THC and other cannabinoids shrank tumors and increased the mice’s lifespans. Munson, AE et al. Antineoplastic Activity of Cannabinoids. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Sept. 1975. p. 597-602.


    In a 1994 study the government tried to suppress, federal researchers gave mice and rats massive doses of THC, looking for cancers or other signs of toxicity. The rodents given THC lived longer and had fewer cancers, “in a dose-dependent manner” (i.e. the more THC they got, the fewer tumors). NTP Technical Report On The Toxicology And Carcinogenesis Studies Of 1-Trans- Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, CAS No. 1972-08-3, In F344/N Rats And B6C3F Mice, Gavage Studies. See also, “Medical Marijuana: Unpublished Federal Study Found THC-Treated Rats Lived Longer, Had Less Cancer,” AIDS Treatment News no. 263, Jan. 17, 1997.


    Researchers at the Kaiser-Permanente HMO, funded by NIDA, followed 65,000 patients for nearly a decade, comparing cancer rates among non-smokers, tobacco smokers, and marijuana smokers. Tobacco smokers had massively higher rates of lung cancer and other cancers. Marijuana smokers who didn’t also use tobacco had no increase in risk of tobacco-related cancers or of cancer risk overall. In fact their rates of lung and most other cancers were slightly lower than non-smokers, though the difference did not reach statistical significance. Sidney, S. et al. Marijuana Use and Cancer Incidence (California, United States). Cancer Causes and Control. Vol. 8. Sept. 1997, p. 722-728.


    Donald Tashkin, a UCLA researcher whose work is funded by NIDA, did a case-control study comparing 1,200 patients with lung, head and neck cancers to a matched group with no cancer. Even the heaviest marijuana smokers had no increased risk of cancer, and had somewhat lower cancer risk than non-smokers (tobacco smokers had a 20-fold increased Lung Cancer risk). Tashkin D. Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study. American Thoracic Society International Conference. May 23, 2006.

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  3. 3. singing flea 9:35 am 04/15/2012

    The bottom line is that marijuana is illegal to protect big pharma’s profit margins. They haven’t figured out a way to improve on what mother nature can produce in your own back yard and force you to buy it with a prescription.

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  4. 4. BuckSkinMan 1:37 am 04/16/2012

    Economic stresses commonly induce insanely bad decision making. THIS is but one example.

    Only complete dolts fail to understand that marijuana consumption lowers brain function. So (duh!) abetting and probably increasing marijuana consumption using the ever-so-helpful “Market Principle” RESULTS in more people thinking and working less. That’s why they call marijuana a “recreational drug.”

    It’s one thing to ask why we criminalize marijuana, it’s another thing to ask: Why the hell do you NEED to have this drug??!! If a person is that broken that they need “assistance” and “a break” from everyday life, then a more pragmatic answer is euthanasia. No one has the right to “check out” and then end up dependent of government aid and charity.

    Funny, how the majority of people are able to go through life with some appreciation for unfiltered reality. Only a few “demand” that they be allowed to “relax” and feel artificially satisfied. Only infants have that legitimate need: adults do not.

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  5. 5. ErnestPayne 4:03 pm 04/16/2012

    Apparently push finally came to shove in the Spanish economy. You realise that this is just the thin edge of the wedge. Who knows what other horrific events will occur because of this one tiny villages attempt to salvage itself (that’s sarcasm folks). Congratulations to them for finally calling the bluff of all the DEA organisations. Personally? I don’t smoke anything.

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  6. 6. Slotpacker 8:37 am 04/18/2012

    If that so called BROKEN person turned out to be your child or parent would you still kill them if pot could help with their symptoms?People like to take God`s place and pass judgement on someones life or should we just have this being around for our (Recreational use)People that never gave pot a acclamation period and pass judgement because they may have tried it once,coughed and judged it to be dangerous,that is (IF) they tried it? Pharmicia has control of this issue and the feds also.Like the oil companies don`t want to hear of Bio fuels. “RELAX only infants have legitimate need”If I can find an infant that talks,I ask them do you need to Relax? After doing 40 radiation treatments for my throat cancer (loss of taste & weight)It came back,I started smoking pot to get my appetite back and lo and behold the cancer is gone.Maybe I should`ve been (EUTHANIZED)

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  7. 7. Slotpacker 9:08 am 04/18/2012

    IT COSTS $70,000.00 PER PERSON JAILED IN PA. The War on Drugs is a failure.That money can be used elsewhere instead of jailing pot smokers.Drugs are bad and should be eliminated, but pot should not be classified in that category.Again Pharmicia and the feds want to keep it that way so you have to buy man made drugs (methadone)alcohol etc..Legalize it,tax it Medical pot only (mite and fungus free). This way all the problems associated with illegal pot and the cartels will be minimized hopefully!

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  8. 8. Percival 9:07 pm 04/18/2012

    BuckSkinMan, you parrot the DEA’s line of bull very well. Can you cite any scientific evidence supporting you claim that “marijuana consumption lowers brain function”? Of course you can’t.

    As far as your naive statements “…the majority of people are able to go through life with some appreciation for unfiltered reality. Only a few “demand” that they be allowed to “relax” and feel artificially satisfied” are concerned, why do you not similarly rail against brewers, distilleries, and wineries? Did you bother considering how many alcoholics wind up as burdens on the State? Of course not.

    Enjoy your “recreational” beer/liquor/wine, but permit me my pot. If you can’t do that, enjoy your status as “hypocrite”.

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