Dear Mr. Berko:
   
Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently changed his mind on the use of marijuana for medical purposes. I think that will change the public perception of marijuana use, which could become as popular as cigarettes. Could you please recommend some public companies that are poised to be in the pot business and give me your opinion on them? As pot continues to gain national approval, I think that this can be a big deal and that there is a lot of money to be made. And I think the government will begin to realize that taxing pot could bring in hundreds of billions of dollars of sorely needed revenue a year. Also, are you able to tell me how the word “pot” came into use?
S.A., Kankakee, Ill.

Dear S.A.:
   
There were about 31 billion packs of cigarettes sold in the U.S. last year, and the federal tax on those coffin nails was $1.01 a pack, which contributed a tad more than $31 billion of revenue to the Treasury. President Barack Obama wants to raise federal taxes on cigarettes by 94 cents, to $1.95, which would earn the Treasury just shy of $60 billion. That’s a far cry from your numbers. However, your state received just over $1 billion from cigarette taxes. The federal tax on distilled spirits, wine and beer presented the Treasury about $20 billion last year, and Illinois received just under $550 million from alcohol taxes in 2012. So your revenue estimate may be too enormously sanguine.
   
A few years ago, the owner of a very successful restaurant and bar in Miami told me the nickname “pot” derived from the Spanish word “potiguaya,” which means marijuana leaves. He also told me that word is a Mexican Spanish word that’s a contraction of “potasio de guaya,” describing an alcoholic drink made with marijuana leaves soaked in your choice of brandy or wine. The name became popular in the U.S. during the late 1930s and early 1940s, and this drink, at $38 a glass in South Beach, is a real lollapalooza.    Congress says pot is illegal because it’s addictive, because it supports and fosters an unfashionable lifestyle and because it causes aggressive criminal behavior. If it does, then Congress smokes a lot of pot. Congress also insists that it has no medical advantages and that the recommendation of pot in medical situations discourages the use of a professional regimen of prescribed drugs and therefore is injurious to our health. But the real reason pot is illegal is the vested interests (lawyers, judges, police officers, DEA agents, drug counselors, psychologists, prisons and those who supply prisons with provisions) would be out of work and would have to be retrained to enter the workforce in a useful capacity. That’s gospel.
   
There are three pot stocks you can consider: GW Pharmaceuticals PLC (GWPH-$28.57), CannaVest Corp. (CANV-$36) and Terra Tech Corp. (TRTC-$0.07). GWPH, a legitimate $41 million-revenue pharmaceutical with 190 employees, is engaged in the research and development of cannabinoid prescription medications for the treatment of cancer pain, MS symptoms, epilepsy, diabetes, glioma and psychiatric illnesses. GWPH has $70 million in cash but no profits in sight for several years.
       
CANV – with five employees, $1.2 million in revenues and only $77,000 in cash – develops, produces, markets and sells hemp-based products to the nutraceutical industry. Its products include hemp plant extract and cannabidiol. CANV has no earnings.
       
TRTC designs, manufactures, markets and sells proprietary horticultural technology for the cultivation of indoor agriculture. TRTC integrates hydroponic systems with cultivation tents, atmospheric controllers, magnetic ballasts, recycling timers and specialty lights, and it markets its products via specialty retailers. TRTC had $1 million in revenues last year but didn’t make a dime.
       
I suspect that the multibillion-dollar-revenue cigarette makers – such as Lorillard, Philip Morris and Altria – are geared up and ready to roll production once the feds give approval. I’m told that big tobacco has already trademarked names such as Acapulco Gold, Colombia Cool, Island Song, Ours and Jamaica Best and has marketing programs to sell the stuff that will rival the adverts for Pepsi and Coke.