What's a Drug Bust Really Worth?

Categories: Marijuana
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What's It Really Worth?

News that the San Francisco Police Department had seized $11.5 million worth of illegal cannabis in calendar year 2010 set the local sphere of growers, activists, and informed tokers abuzz.

That figure is peanuts compared to the SFPD's overall budget of $445 million, and not that much more than the single haul Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies had on a remote island last year.

Still, speculation lingers: Where did all that pot go?


If SFPD seized 13,500 plants, worth $11.5 million, it must have been quite a payday for the department. One activist even guessed that SFPD had sold the seized buds on the black market.

Relax. SFPD did not seize $11.5 million in cash, nor did they seize $11.5 million worth of packaged, processed, ready-to-be-slung-to-teenagers buds.

Here's why.

An eighth of an ounce of marijuana sells in San Francisco between $35 and $60, depending on the merchant and the quality. But for ease, let's say it's selling for $45. A pound of  marijuana will catch between $500 and $2,500 at wholesale in California. Again, for ease, let's say a pound of good bud is worth a (very generous) $2,000.

These market figures are easily verifiable at dispensaries' Web sites and also at the classified listings at Budtrader.com (always a fine read).

The SFPD's narcotics unit uses the following formula to calculate the  net worth of marijuana confiscated at a drug bust: A pot plant is worth three ounces of marijuana, and every pound they seized is estimated at $3,000 on the streets, according to Sgt. Mike Andraychak, a department spokesman.

"Since then, the price has gone down," Andraychak said, telling SF Weekly that narcotics officers will update the formula sometime this year, and will continue to adjust it seasonally.

Going by the SFPD's formula, 13,500 plants worth $11.5 million would break down to $831 per plant.

Yet on the growing-room floor, it looks somewhat like this: If you have an indoor plant that produces three ounces of pot, that plant could be worth $1,080 on the street, assuming all three ounces are sold at $45 for every eighth of an ounce. If every grower breaks up and sells his or her pound as $45-eighths (not very likely), then each pound is worth $5,760 -- much higher than what SFPD estimates, but possible.

Even if an indoor farmer has a solid harvest, those ounces are sold for $200 or less. And none of that is pure profit. Someone has to pay the electric bill, pay for nutrients, and pay someone to trim it. And there's waste in every crop. When you factor all that in, the profit margin gets even slimmer.

"Your average mediocre grower is going to get one to two ounces per plant, or three to four ounces if they really know what they're doing," said an Oakland-based source deep into the growing business.

Even if SFPD counted only mature plants, the police practice of counting any kind of plant -- mature, immature, healthy or sick -- means that SFPD's three-ounce per plant average is hopelessly high. 

This sounds fine until you consider that seizure estimates always include immature plants, male plants, hermaphrodite plants and clones -- stuff a self-respecting stoner wouldn't smoke for anything. Moreover, it's stuff that's impossible to smoke.

Point is, there's really no way to know how much exactly the pot seized by SFPD is worth, without knowing if it was top-shelf Sour Diesel, midgrade anonymous indica or powdery- mildewed Mexican brown. And certainly, there's no reason to believe that someone, somewhere has $11.5 million of drug money stashed in a duffel bag.

The math is so fuzzy as to be almost worthless. Yet those numbers are just the same in court, where they have real-life consequences.

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19 comments
Ggrevamp
Ggrevamp

this dude has his eyes open, and knows a-bit of what he is gabbin about....yes....non....gg

MGM
MGM

The author means $45 for every 1/8 ounce right? A couple of times it states 1/8 pound for 45 dollars. If you are going to talk figures, you should get your units right. I wish an 8th of a pound was 45 dollars. That's two ounces.

tim
tim

It says in the beginning an eighth of an oz

Mary
Mary

just legalize it already, most of us smoke it anyway.

lakawak
lakawak

Is this a joke? Did this article really at one point suggest that you should only count PROFIT, so subtract the cost of growing the plants? So, if someone steals a car, they should say it is only a few thousand bucks or stolen goods?

Ds420
Ds420

no lakawak he does not say or suggest that, you misinterpret and tweak the words to come to that conclusion. he simply states those amounts aren't pure profit as there are expenses associated with cultivation and harvest. is your comment a joke?

Againstlogik
Againstlogik

I've heard of plants grown in buckets of planting soil being weighed in entirety.

LimeSnazzy
LimeSnazzy

What a "who cares?" article. "Speculation lingers,where did all the pot go?" Are you serious? It went up in smoke like the rest of the PD-seized narcotics.What "real-life consequences" do these $$$-inflated numbers lead to? Of course the cops will boost the value of seizures. It's about as harmless as a girl taking ten pounds off her weight on her match.com profile. The value of the crop doesn't have anything to do with sentencing.

And to Andy the commenter, do you really expect cops to take the time to separate all your shit to get the true "smokeable weight" to charge you with. Are you serious? The entire plant is illegal, not just the buds.

MONK
MONK

urgent message to residents of SF : gays and lesbians are everywhere , kids are rotten and spoiled , ethics are declining , morals are nose-diving , alcohol and drugs are available to all . repent people and change this evil acts or face the wrath of GOD .

Bianca
Bianca

we don't live in jesusland. shut the fuck up.

Phil E. Drifter
Phil E. Drifter

Get a brain, moran!

There is no god.

Get over it. Evolve.

MountainDew
MountainDew

Who's Moran? And yes there is a God. Who else would create such a lucious drink known as Mountain Dew, and such an amazing plant known as marijuana.

Get under it. Regress.

obbop
obbop

Four-finger lids?

Andy Thomas
Andy Thomas

When I got busted for cultivation, roots, stems, leaves all counted in weight calculation. My plants had no buds, yet the newspaper calculated that I had 3# of pot worth $6,000. My plants had not been sexed yet either.

Some Dude
Some Dude

yeah that kills me, they don't realize what a waste of time and effort it is to harass someone for being self sufficient.

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