If the legal marijuana industry is looking for accidental boosters, it may have just found two: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and former President Bill Clinton. In remarks to the Clinton Global Initiative in Denver -- just blocks away from the country’s first legal marijuana stores -- Vilsack noted that cannabis has become one of the most valuable commodities in American agriculture.
During an on-stage conversation with Clinton, Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, recounted a recent visit to Milwaukee. He said a farmer there showed him some specialty commodities (not marijuana) "he was raising for local restaurants and grocery stores, and he said, 'you know, an acre of this sells for a million dollars.'” Vilsack then said: “With the exception of the state of Colorado and a few other states that have legalized another product, there are not very many commodities that you can plant, Mr. President, and then grow up to get a million bucks.”
“Dear Lord, that’s all I need is one more story,” Clinton said as the assembled crowd burst into laughter. He then poked fun at the controversy surrounding his paid appearances, saying, “If only the marijuana growers would invite me to give a speech.”
Colorado voters in 2012 passed an initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use. In the first year of legalization, the state raked in $76 million in tax revenue and fees from the sale of the drug. Vilsack has said he is working with the Justice Department to permit the importation of hemp seeds for industrial production. In recent weeks, the U.S. House backed measures aimed at preventing the Justice Department from undermining state efforts to legalize marijuana.
“There’s unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which favors legalization.
Clinton’s light-hearted take on the marijuana issue comes almost a quarter-century after he became a lightning rod in the debate about the drug. In 1992, during his first run for president, he was asked about his own personal use and famously said, “When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it -- and didn’t inhale and never tried it again.”