With warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters, it is no surprise that California produces more than two-thirds of all the fruits and nuts and one third of all the vegetables grown in the United States. In fact, all told, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, California’s agriculture industry is worth approximately $47 billion dollars—that’s more than 11 percent of the national total. But it’s not oranges or lettuce that are raking in the most cash in the state; it’s cannabis.
The Worth of Cannabis Agriculture
Based on the state’s 2015 Crop Year Report and an estimate of marijuana’s worth from the Orange County Register, cannabis is worth more than the top five leading crops in California combined.
- Marijuana: $23.3B
- Milk: $6.29B
- Almonds: $5.33B
- Grapes: $4.95B
- Cattle: $3.40B
- Lettuce: $2.26B
If that number seems high compared to other estimates, that’s because it takes into account more than just the legal industry. The OC Register calculated its estimate of cannabis crop value using a few assumptions.
First, they looked at the number of marijuana plants seized by law enforcement in 2015, around 2.6 million. From there, they assumed that those seizures only estimated 10 to 20 percent of all illegal marijuana produced in the state, based on figures provided by the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime. According to those numbers, in 2015, California cultivated a total of 13.2 million marijuana plants, and if the price of illegally grown marijuana is $1,765 a pound, then the industry is worth approximately 23.3 billion dollars.
Now, let’s say you think those calculations are a little too optimistic and that California law enforcement is far better than average at seizing illegal cannabis plants. Even if they seized 40 percent of all plants and farmers only received $1,000 a pound, cannabis would be worth eight billion dollars and still be the leading crop in the state.
So, what does this mean for California’s agriculture industry? Cannabis is king and with the passage of Proposition 64 in November, there’s no reason to think that it’s going anywhere soon. However, that doesn’t mean the future is all smooth sailing.
“Cannabis is worth more than the top five leading crops in California combined.”
The Future of Cannabis Agriculture
Under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act as well as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, marijuana farms that receive zoning approval from local jurisdictions can apply for a state license on zoned agriculture land. There’s just one problem, navigating these laws isn’t easy.
As of today, no local communities in San Diego have allowed outdoor cannabis farms to take root, according to the San Diego Tribune. And in other parts of the state, marijuana is more likely to be grown in greenhouses, so getting zoned for agriculture land would be a waste when it would be an industrial-zoned property. It makes things frustrating and confusing.
The truth is that regulators are facing a massive uphill battle in creating the new framework for the legal marijuana industry. California’s marijuana market is two decades old, meaning there are many entrenched ideals that will be difficult to overcome in order to pull the industry into the mainstream.
This is especially true for the thousands of marijuana businesses currently operating in the grey—to avoid taxes and the cost of complying with regulations. For example, Humboldt Country has registered 2,200 marijuana businesses, but estimates are that the area is home to more than 20,000 farms. The new laws aren’t likely to make them want to come into the white, especially since those laws could favor large-scale agribusinesses over small farmers.
According to Lori Ajax, Chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, who spoke at a public forum held in downtown Sacramento in January, the state has a lot of work ahead of it. “This is a huge state [but] we are going to meet the deadline. I’m very determined,” she said. And it’s definitely a tight deadline. The law kicks in January 1, 2018. So, we’ll just have to wait and see.
- California leads the nation in total illegal plants seized indoors and outdoors.
- In 2015, 2.64 million plants were seized in California compared to 1.62 million plants in the remaining 49 states combined.
- Kentucky faced 571,340 plant seizures in 2015.