Health

Pot Boom and Big Agriculture

The growth of farming — legal and not so legal

The cannabis market is just too big to ignore, according to some of the pot entrepreneurs taking advantage of the burgeoning marijuana growing market in Colorado.

With the passage of Colorado’s 2012 Amendment 64, anyone 21 years or older, now has a constitutional right in Colorado to possess and consume marijuana. Non-residents of Colorado are restricted to purchasing ¼ ounce in a single transaction.

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Because of this growing “growing” market, companies like Denver-based Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. have created a subsidiary that is building huge greenhouses to lease to licensed recreational marijuana growers at about $1 million an acre. Two Rivers typically gets $4,000 to $5,000 for every acre of corn, cabbage and pumpkins it plants. Now the company is targeting higher cash yields by leasing land to cannabis growers, according to Denver Post Business.

Related: Edible Weed is Half Baked

Also too big to ignore is California’s quasi-legal pot industry. Marijuana is the largest cash crop in the state of California. Yet it is not legal in California, the way it is in Colorado.

Under California law, possessing up to an ounce or less of marijuana is a civil infraction similar to a speeding ticket, thanks to a law signed in 2010 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Senate Bill 1449 reduced the charge of possession of up to one ounce of cannabis from a misdemeanor to an infraction, with a $100 fine and no mandatory court appearance or criminal record.

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California was the first state to establish a medical marijuana program, through Proposition 215 in 1996. The Compassionate Use Act ostensibly allows people with cancer and chronic illnesses the right to grow or obtain marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor. Senate Bill 420 in 2003 then established an identification card system for medical marijuana patients.

These poorly written laws and initiatives have effectively made marijuana quasi-legal in California, pitting state and federal officials against each other and growers begging for regulations.

Across the state of California, there are an estimated 50,000 small pot farms.

Across the state of California, there are an estimated 50,000 small pot farms. In the past decade, there has been a steady increase in the amount of cannabis cultivation in Shasta, Tehama and Humboldt counties, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Watershed Enforcement Team. And the biggest problem with the unregulated marijuana cultivation in California are the pot farmers who illegally divert water, according to the Fish and Wildlife agency.

Related: Pot Pushed for PTSD

The problem is particularly serious and even dangerous along California’s North Coast in beautiful Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties, known as the Emerald Triangle, the largest cannabis-producing region in the world. In Humboldt County alone, the Fish and Wildlife agency estimates there are about 4,000 grow operations. The California marijuana industry is estimated to produce about 20 million pounds of pot annually.

The California marijuana industry is estimated to produce about 20 million pounds of pot annually.

However, the region’s sheriffs say most of the small farmers want rules and regulations for growing.

Unlike California, Colorado regulates its pot growing industry. Tommy Moore of the Colorado Department of Revenue, Marijuana Enforcement & Taxation division explained that as of July 31, there are 759 licensed medical marijuana cultivation growers, and 480 licensed retail marijuana growers in Colorado.

However, “licensed does not mean operating,” Moore said. “All medical and retail marijuana businesses must be licensed by the state Marijuana Enforcement Division and licensed and approved by their local jurisdictions.”

How does Colorado regulates the growers.

“The licensed marijuana cultivation grower businesses are licensed and regulated by the State’s Marijuana Enforcement Division,” he said. “The MED is the authority in charge of enforcing the medical and retail marijuana rules.”

Interestingly, it appears the medical marijuana industry in Colorado is flattening out. The Marijuana Enforcement Division’s 2015 Mid-Year Update shows very little growth in the number of licensees, licensed marijuana businesses and medical marijuana sold in Colorado.

But the retail marijuana industry is growing, as the Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. has shown, by leasing out its land to licensed recreational marijuana growers. The “Average Cultivated Vegetative & Flower Plants” blossomed up from 219,688 cultivated plants in January, to 283,551 plants in June. The Average Medical Marijuana Cultivated Plants dipped from 304,149 in January, to 302,090 in June.

According to the office of California’s Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, the majority of the grows the sheriff encounters are illegal “and definitely impact the county.”

Just last week, Sgt. Jason Ramos said they conducted a four-day operation in Sacramento County cornfields, in the heart of California’s agricultural valley, and eradicated 48,011 illegal marijuana plants. Ramos said they were only able to destroy approximately a quarter of what was there, because of very limited financial resources. As a result, the majority of the marijuana will be harvested before the Sheriff’s office can fund another operation, Ramos said.

“Water intended for food crops is diverted to irrigate marijuana,” said Ramos. “On average, a marijuana plant requires approximately six gallons of water a day prior to maturity. If you look at the number of plants we eradicated last week, about 288,000 gallons of water were being used daily for the plants.”

And as with the northern California counties, Ramos said that the illegal cultivation of marijuana introduces many chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides into the surrounding agriculture crops.

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