Really? That’s what seized cannabis is worth?

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It seems that determining the value of cannabis seized by police is all about potential, with a bit of PR mixed in.

Estimating what a pot seizure is “worth” appears to be a fairly fluid, some might say slippery. Just consider these recent examples from around the world (all reported values have been converted to Canadian dollars): more than 870 marijuana plants worth $870,000 in Ontario; 1,740 kg of cannabis valued at about $10.6 million in Buffalo; 480 kg of marijuana worth $36,000 in India; and 2,426 cannabis plants worth more than $850,000 in the U.K.

Perhaps most intriguing, though, was the two stolen plants in Oklahoma that were valued at U.S. $3,000. The owners said the plants were taken from the background where they were being grown, although the Ardmore Police Department noted there was no evidence to suggest how the suspect or suspects entered the area, according to The Daily Ardmoreite.

(Medical cannabis is legal in Oklahoma to treat certain conditions, as is consumption at home. Without a medical licence, possessing more than about 40 grams of cannabis can result in a misdemeanour charge and penalty, but no jail time).

Exactly what an individual plant will yield each year can vary wildly based on many factors, including the strain being grown, if grown indoors or outdoors and how light is being used, suggests I Love Growing Marijuana. If all things go swimmingly, annual production could be about 420 grams, or just under a pound, the site notes.

Citing figures from Statistics Canada, CBC reported earlier this year that the average price of legal cannabis in this country was $10.30 per gram in the final quarter of 2019. That compares to an average price of $7.43 per gram in 2017, $8.09 in 2016 and $8.50 in 2015 — all before weed was recreational legalized two years ago.

Several factors are likely to be considered when police release estimates, including if the figure represents retail or street value, as well as the weed’s origin and availability in the market where it is being sold. “The price will vary with the demand, quantity, quality, region, the relationship between the buyer and seller and other variables,” notes the report, Measuring Illicit Cannabis Seizures in Canada.

Similar to licit markets, “drug prices are moderated according to relative supply and demand. / Photo: vmargineanu/Getty Images / Photo: vmargineanu/Getty Images

“As several consulted experts have indicated, the reported value of seized cannabis is generally inaccurate, unless the cannabis was seized as part of an undercover operation,” states the report. “Similar to purchasing a used car, the price of cannabis is only valid at the point of the exchange and average general market prices may not necessarily be representative of any given seizure,” it adds.

Similar to licit markets, “drug prices are moderated according to relative supply and demand. Previous studies have shown that drops in cannabis prices have been associated with increases in supply,” Public Safety Canada points out.

The confusion can be seen with two recent busts — one in legalized Canada and one in still-illicit New York state. Canada Border Services Agency noted that a seizure of over 1,400 kilograms of suspected cannabis had an estimated value of more than $10.8 million, which would equate to about $7,714 per kilogram or $7.71 per gram. Compare that to another seizure by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in in Buffalo, N.Y. involving about 1,740 kg of weed valued at more than $10 million, which would translate to $5,747 per kilogram or $5.75 per gram.

“There is no way that 247 lbs is worth anywhere near ($2) million dollars.” / Photo: cheonlijyang / iStock / Getty Images Plus cheonlijyang / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Some people suggest estimates are overblown, whether that’s because of a lack of understanding of contributing factors or because bigger numbers make for splashier PR and prosecutorial heft.

Following a 2016 seizure of 247 pounds (112 kg) of weed in Pennsylvania, one reader scoffed at the sheriff’s estimate that it was worth US$2 million ($2.64 million). “There is no way that 247 lbs is worth anywhere near ($2) million dollars. Weed costs about $50 per eighth-ounce on the street. If you split that 247 lbs into 31,616 individual units and sold them for $50 each you’d only have $1.58 million…. $750,000 tops in its bulk form.”

Of course, quality is a factor. Local weed might pale in comparison to “super high-octane product coming out of Canada,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency suggested in the article, adding that the latter could fetch US$5,000 to US$7,000 ($6,600 to $9,240) a pound.

With the different considerations and motivations, understanding the value of weed seizures, really, will likely prove challenging for some time yet. / Photo: iStock / Getty Images Plus iStock / Getty Images Plus

By valuing seizures of a wholesale amount as if it would only be sold in very small amounts is also likely to produce a bigger figure, Reason reported in 2012.

With the different considerations and motivations, understanding the value of weed seizures will likely prove challenging for some time yet.

But if you want to get high with the help of your friends, the Price of Weed website notes that it crowdsources “the street value of marijuana from the most accurate source possible: you, the consumer. Help by anonymously submitting data on the latest transaction you’ve made.”

No word on if that is based on legal, (or not) supplies.

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