Even before California legalized the cultivation and sale of marijuana for recreational users, this state was already one of the country’s biggest producers of the drug in the country. Recently, The Orange County Register delved into just how big of a producer – and the results are somewhat astonishing, even to those of us familiar with the industry.
California is known around the world to have some of the best soil for farming all types of agriculture. We grow some of the greatest grapes, winter vegetables, garlic, olives and almonds. But the biggest item produced? Cannabis.
The Register reports that not only is marijuana the most valuable crop in the nation’s No. 1 agricultural producer state, but we grow so much of it here that it blows the other goods out of the water. Reporters looked at figures from the California Department of Food and Agriculture for crops and production estimates. What they found was that estimated marijuana crop production was more than the other five leading agricultural commodities – combined.
In terms of billions of dollars, here’s what they found in terms of annual production value:
- Marijuana – $23.3 billion
- Milk – $6.28 billion
- Almonds – $5.33 billion
- Grapes – $4.95 billion
- Cattle/ calves – $3.39 billion
- Lettuce – $2.25 billion
To put this into perspective, that $23 billion figure is almost three times when industry investors had anticipated the state’s legal market would be once the drug was openly available to all adults in the state.
But of course, the report is being challenged because, after all, how can we know what was being grown and sold illegally for years? The newspaper has an answer for this. It looked at the seizures of marijuana plants, which on average was more than two million annually for the last five years. Reporters then noted that the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s common refrain that seizures of marijuana plants (of all drugs, really) account for only between 10 and 20 percent of what is produced. That lead researchers to conclude there were approximately 13.2 million marijuana plants grown in California in 2015 (given that we know 2.6 billion were destroyed), and that’s based on the higher-end 20 percent figure. That means this could even be a conservative estimate.
They then presumed each plant had the potential to produce one pound of marijuana at a market price of about $1,800 a pound. (It should be noted that plants grown outdoors usually produce more than a pound, but those grown inside bear less, so that figure is deemed to be fairly safe – and likely conservative. However, indoor marijuana often garners less money than outdoor pot plants.)
And even if we consider that California’s law enforcement is very good at rooting out illegal marijuana grows, seizing, let’s say double what the U.N. estimates, and let’s say those plants only generated $1,000 per pound, we’re still talking about an $8 billion crop.
By comparison, some researchers peg the state’s legal medical marijuana market at generating slightly less than $3 billion in 2015. Legalization is expected to boost it to $6.5 billion by 2020. What these figures suggest is that we could be seeing a demand that is far higher.
Now, all of this also raises the question of where all this illegally-grown product has been going. If law enforcement busts on the highway are any indication, we can safely bet a lot of it is traveling out-of-state, probably to states that don’t allow legal access to marijuana. That tells us that it’s unlikely that these underground operations are going to totally cease now that it’s legal in marijuana. So long as it remains illegal elsewhere, the demand will not subside.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
California’s marijuana production is already mind boggling, Dec. 29, 2016, Orange County Register
More Blog Entries:
Study: Marijuana Reduces In-Hospital Mortality Risk, Jan. 10, 2017, Orange County Marijuana Lawyer Blog