Cannabis is enjoying a major public-image improvement. After all, we've learned that the THC in marijuana has medicinal uses, while the plant fibers in hemp have countless uses in manufacturing. The legitimacy of marijuana is growing as states legalize it and corporations invest substantial resources in cannabinoid research and development.
No matter your stance on cannabis, you should get to know the world's most high-profile plant. So here are some facts and figures on marijuana that may surprise or impress you:
In Colorado, (legal) sales of recreational and medical marijuana totaled nearly $1 billion in 2015
Marijuana is a bigger business than many people realize. Although some are worried about the long-term health effects of marijuana use, it's clear that legalization comes with some benefits to society -- namely, more jobs and tax revenue. In 2014, Colorado collected $76 million in total marijuana-related taxes, and it had collected an additional $87 million from January through August of 2015 -- and much of that revenue went to schools. Indeed, the state collects more from marijuana taxes than from alcohol taxes. Personal-finance website NerdWallet estimated that full nationwide legalization could bring in more than $3 billion in annual tax revenue to our 50 states.
About 700,000 people are arrested annually on marijuana-related charges
That's a lot of people -- and most of them are not dangerous drug kingpins or even local distributors. Fully 88% of those arrested in 2014 were arrested for possession of marijuana, often in small amounts. In fact, a whopping 40% of all drug-related arrests in 2014 were for marijuana possession and not production or sale. That's a huge drain on our criminal justice and penal systems, suggesting that there could be substantial taxpayer savings if restrictions on the drug were relaxed or the drug were legalized.
There are more than 25,000 product applications for industrial hemp -- and countless more
Hemp is often thought of as another word for marijuana, but it's actually a different member of the cannabis family with far lower levels of THC -- the ingredient that delivers the drug's high. Hemp as a crop has vast potential, but the widespread farming of it is not currently legal -- even though it was brought to America in 1645 by the Puritans and was grown by George Washington, too. Per the North American Industrial Hemp Council, hemp is very fibrous and can be used to make high-quality paper; it's resistant to many pests, reducing the need for pesticides; and it can be processed with fewer pollutive chemicals. Indeed, hemp can yield four times as much fiber per acre than the average forest.
The first e-commerce transaction was a marijuana sale
That's one tidbit in John Markoff 's 2005 book What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry:
In 1971 or 1972, Stanford students using Arpanet accounts at Stanford University's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory engaged in a commercial transaction with their counterparts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before Amazon or even eBay, the seminal act of e-commerce was a drug deal. The students used the network to quietly arrange the sale of an undetermined amount of marijuana.
E-commerce has clearly grown like gangbusters since then, expected to top $300 billion in 2016. The more legalized marijuana becomes in America, the more it will be sold by retailers -- perhaps even online eventually.
You needn't be a marijuana user to be interested in the contentious plant. Cannabis is sure to have an interesting few decades as we explore its benefits, research its risks, and draft laws that maximize the former and minimize the latter. Stay tuned.
Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, owns no shares of any company mentioned in this article. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.