Marijuana is now the most valuable cash crop for the United States overall and for many states across the South, according to a new study published in the latest issue of the Bulletin of Cannabis Reform. The study estimates the total value of this year's U.S. marijuana crop at $35.8 billion, more than the combined value of corn at $23.3 billion and wheat at $7.45 billion.

Five of the top 10 marijuana-growing states are in the South -- six counting West Virginia. The top 10 states are: 1) California, 2) Tennessee, 3) Kentucky, 4) Hawaii, 5) Washington, 6) North Carolina, 7) Florida, 8) Alabama, 9) West Virginia, and 10) Oregon. Five states including Tennessee and Kentucky had annual marijuana crops worth over $1 billion.

"The fact that marijuana is America's number one cash crop after more than three decades of governmental eradication efforts is the clearest illustration that our present marijuana laws are a complete failure," Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, said in a press statement.

The study was conducted by Jon B. Gettman, who holds a doctorate in public policy from Virginia's George Mason University and who now teaches public administration at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va. He argues that the U.S. policy of prohibition and eradication of marijuana has been a failure, and that the crop should be legalized and regulated:

The ten-fold growth of production over the last 25 years and its proliferation to every part of the country demonstrate the irrefutable reality that marijuana has become a pervasive and ineradicable part of the economy of the United States. The contribution of this market to the nation's gross domestic product is overlooked in the debate over effective control and discouragement of use by teenagers and children. Like all profitable agricultural crops marijuana adds resources and value to the economy. The focus for public policy should be how to effectively control this market through regulation and taxation in order to achieve immediate and realistic goals, such as reducing teenage access, rather than to continue to sacrifice achievable goals in exchange for unachievable long-term goals that have failed to materialize over the last 25 years.

A report released last year by Dr. Jeffrey Miron, visiting professor of economics at Harvard University, found that replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation similar to that used for alcoholic beverages would produce combined savings and tax revenues of between $10 billion and $14 billion per year. The study was endorsed by more than 500 economists, including three Nobel laureates.

Miron estimated that legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition, with $5.3 billion of the savings accruing to state and local governments and $2.4 billion accruing to the feds.

And then there are the savings in human suffering that would be gained from ending the failed policy of prohibition. More than 700,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges last year -- and more than 5 million in the past decade -- with almost 90 percent of those arrests for simple possession, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. How many lives have been hurt by legal problems related to consuming a plant whose use, according to a 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine, "is not associated with increased mortality"?