Crop reports and economic forecasts for agricultural commodities have long been the work products of USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and its National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

Those are the USDA research units that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue wants to move out of the District of Columbia capital region. Perdue is thinking ahead to future recruitments at a time when the nation’s capital is among the priciest real estate on the planet. He’s been picked out in Indiana, Kansas and North Carolina where prestigious research is more affordable.

USDA research veterans, however, don’t want to sell their houses and move. Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich Friday reported on the hot competition for the 20 research positions that will remain in the District.

And Beltway special interests are putting up a hell of a fight to keep both units in D.C. Also Friday morning, however, there was another report in my local newspaper that not only supports Perdue’s concern about the Beltway’s cost of living but some of the research USDA will likely be doing on its own, very shortly.

According to the Mississippi-based Oxford Treatment Centers, with data produced by PriceofWeed. Com, the highest cost marijuana in America is in, you guessed it, Washington D.C. One ounce of high-quality marijuana purchased in the District of Columbia will set you back $597.88, according to the consumer-driven marijuana price index.

Since crop prices and commodity forecasts are staples of USDA’s economic research, it’s probably only a matter of time before the agency is doing this sort of research on its own. Hemp will likely be USDA’s gateway research to marijuana, which is already one of America’s most abundant cash crops.

True there are 10 states where marijuana remains entirely illegal, but that’s largely offset by the now 11 where cannabis is entirely legal. (Welcome to the party Illinois)  The other 29 states are in the middle with medical marijuana, decriminalization, and recent  legislative actions  to make the use of marijuana legal for recreational purposes.

USDA researchers could someday soon counsel the District of Columbia on its high prices for quality marijuana. Too much demand is pushing the District’s pot prices to unaffordable levels for anyone below a GS-12 government pay-grade.

So, how high are District marijuana prices when compared to other places? The most affordable markets for purchasing marijuana are Oregon ($210.75); Washington, (232.90); and Colorado ($241.74), according to the data.

Again, prices quoted are for one ounce of the best stuff.

Generally speaking, the highest pot prices are in the Midwest, South, and Eastern U.S. (except for New England). The best deals are found in the Mountain West and on the West Coast where the recreational marijuana was first made legal in Colorado by voter initiative in 2012.

No surprise then that North Dakota ($383.60) and Virginia ($364.89) follow the District on the high price hit parade. The study pegged the national average at $326 per ounce.

Indeed, in those high price locations, demand is a significant factor in how much marijuana will fetch. However, the Oxford Treatment Centers, which authored the report, say the various laws are substantial contributing factors.

Washington D.C. allows anyone to carry up to two ounces of marijuana and grow six plants at a time for personal use. North Dakota allows only medical use, while Virginia permits no use.  It is legal in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and seven other states. Not all, however, is grown legally as Colorado residents learned last month during a big round of busts of growers supplying out-of-state markets.

For our part, Food Safety News will continue to focus on whether marijuana plants for human consumption are being grown under sound agricultural practices, and whether edibles are being produced safety. In the early years, we saw plants being drenched in chemicals and growing mold, and edibles dosed unevenly with TCH. Some state regulators seem to care mostly about this wonderful new source of tax revenue.

Someday soon, however, USDA researchers will likely be telling us how much marijuana needs to be grown next year to bring prices down or how much the next Farm Bill will cost due to the cost of marijuana crop insurance.

This will all come to pass. Legal marijuana was a $10.4 billion industry last year the U.S. It employs 250,000 just to handle marijuana plants. Investments in North American cannabis last year totaled $10 billion and will surpass $16 billion in 2019.

With that much money involved, do you really think the House and Senate Agriculture committees will be far behind?

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