California just has too damn much marijuana. Like, way, way too much.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture recently commissioned a study attempting to quantify how much weed the Golden State consumes and produces and the results shouldn't be surprising to anyone here on the North Coast — the numbers are totally out of whack. The study found that while California consumes about 2.5 million pounds of cannabis annually, it's producing more than five times that amount, some 13.5 million pounds.
That oversupply is having a ripple effect and stoking a host of concerns as the state prepares to begin regulating recreational adult use in January.
First off, it clearly illustrates that lots and lots of marijuana grown in California is heading across state lines to other markets, including ones where full-scale cannabis prohibition continues in full force. This is a concern for state officials.
"If we want to avoid intervention from the federal government, we need to do everything we can to crack down on illegal activity and prevent cannabis from being exported out of state," California Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a Republican from Palmdale, told the Los Angeles Times.
The fear is that the U.S. Attorney General — marijuana-is-only-slightly-less-awful-than-heroin — Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III might use the fact that millions of pounds of California marijuana are flooding into other states as a reason to crack down and make an example of the Golden State and, possibly, even attempt to shutter its recreational markets.
Growers, meanwhile, are also feeling the burden of all those pounds. Those who are bearing the costs of getting permitted, taxed and going legit are starting to realize retail markets are going to have to charge a lot more than marijuana is currently fetching on the black market. There's also a growing concern among some that the state's track and trace programs designed to follow a plant from seed to sale are going to have kinks and flaws, potentially allowing cheaply produced black market cannabis to infiltrate legal markets.
And those farmers who have bypassed the chance to get permitted and go legit — roughly 80 percent of Humboldt County's estimated 10,000-plus farms — are facing a serious supply and demand problem, with some reportedly still sitting on large chunks of last year's harvest because they can't get a decent price for it. Many face the choice of selling in California at a loss or taking the risk of transporting it across state lines to more lucrative markets.
It's an interesting conundrum in a state where cannabis was once more valuable by the ounce than gold. Humboldt native and current California Growers Association Executive Director Hezekiah Allen recently made waves in the industry by saying state-licensed growers might have to scale back as a part of a "painful downsizing curve." But it seems like even if that idea got some buy in — which is unlikely — it would only address a fraction of the problem. What Allen and others really need is for the clear-cutting green rushers to scale back and, well, that's not going to happen voluntarily.
Ironically, the situation seems to have left many yearning for a good old fashioned weed bust. But cannabis enforcement — at least on a state and local level — doesn't seem to be a priority. (And, I should add, it seems state voters have repeatedly said it shouldn't be.) The state currently doesn't have a lead agency on illegal marijuana cultivation, which has been deemed a low priority for the state's Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. Local agencies like the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, simply don't have the resources to eradicate the thousands of gardens needed to put a kink in the supply chain.
Meanwhile, in the state Assembly, Lackey, a retired California Highway Patrol sergeant, has introduced a bill that would name his former agency the state's lead enforcement arm for black market marijuana. But while CHP is well versed in traffic stops, is it realistic to send them into the hills to chop down marijuana plants?
As farmers prepare their harvests and California scrambles to open recreational sales, the state finds itself in an odd predicament. Voters have decided to largely decriminalize marijuana and open up legal markets. But to ensure the success of those markets — and the regulatory framework designed to protect them — the state may need to further criminalize marijuana farmers.
Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.