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How is the street value of marijuana determined?

BY LINDY STEVENS

Published March 6, 2008

The City of Ann Arbor might have some of the most lax pot laws around, but when local police recover the drug, it's the federal government that determines its value.

Emily Mayer
The value of marijuana given in police reports is determined by United States Drug Enforcement Agency, which tracks the price and quantity of drugs confiscated by police nationwide. (ZACHARY MEISNER/Daily)

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The United States Drug Enforcement Agency puts a $1,000 price tag on one pound of marijuana, but according to Michigan state police Lt. Garth Burnside, who heads the Narcotics Enforcement Team in Washtenaw County, this figure doesn't account for the range of qualities - or prices - in the marijuana market.

To determine an approximate street value of drugs, the DEA keeps a record of drug busts that occur throughout the country. Published in a report known as "Trends in Trafficking," the DEA takes into account the price, quantity and quality of drugs confiscated in the busts.

Burnside that while it's difficult to gauge a market with so many factors, the $1,000 figure for a pound of marijuana seemed appropriate.

Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said these dollars values have no legal significance. Instead, they're meant to give ordinary citizens an idea of drug recovery values made by the police.

Like most products, the price of pot relies on the classic economic mechanism of supply and demand. With drug raids like the seizure of 375 pounds of marijuana in Ypsilanti earlier this week, Burnside and other drug enforcers hope to create a shortage in the market, thus boosting prices and lowering consumption.

"It's like buying a candy bar," Burnside said. "If you buy one in the store today, the price might be different if it's on sale tomorrow."

The Lieutenant also noted that a drug's price can change significantly based on location.

A University student who wished to remain anonymous said he regularly travels to Detroit to buy marijuana because it's cheaper there.

"I would pay 50 or 60 bucks for an eighth (of an ounce) of Chronic in Ann Arbor, but I could get a full ounce of the same stuff for 80 to 100 bucks in Detroit."

The self-described "marijuana enthusiast" said the DEA's estimate of $1,000 seemed reasonable, but that $1,500 was more realistic. He said he thinks that police intentionally place a lower value on a drug to make others who dabble in the market question the higher prices they might be paying to dealers.


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