Pubdate: Sat, 30 May 2009
Source: Lodi News-Sentinel (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Lodi News-Sentinel
Author: Andrew Adams
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


If marijuana is legalized, one proponent of the drug says San Joaquin 
County could soon see a new type of tourist who doesn't swirl, sniff 
and sip from a wine glass, but instead rolls, lights and tokes a joint.

The debate on legalizing marijuana has taken on new life with the 
state mired in a multi-billion dollar deficit, a change in 
administration in Washington, D.C., and growing social acceptance for 

A San Francisco lawmaker has introduced legislation to legalize the 
drug, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he's open to hearing 
proposals on the issue.

For Cliff Schaffer, a Los Angeles-based proponent of legalization, 
it's not a matter of years until legalization -- it's a matter of months.

And he's convinced that San Joaquin County and the rest of the valley 
should use its excellent soil and sophisticated ag-industry to take 
advantage of the coming reefer riches. He envisions a region in which 
sophisticated pot connoisseurs could tour from grower to grower, 
sampling their wares.

Schaffer puts the value of the state's illicit marijuana crop at 
around $11.6 billion based on what has been seized by the authorities.

"If all we did was take that and sell it through licensed 
distributors, that would solve most of the problems of the Central 
Valley," he said.

But Schaffer goes further in saying that pot aficionados would pay 
even higher prices for weed of the highest quality, grown in the best 
conditions. He said that if anyone were to visit one of the dozens of 
L.A.-area medical marijuana dispensaries, they would find consumers 
evaluating the product based on appearance, aroma, flavor and potency.

"Instead of 30 varieties of wine, you got 30 varieties of weed," he 
said. "The behavior of consumers is very similar to that of consumers 
in a good wine store. There's a lot of sex appeal in it, taste appeal in it."

Schaffer said that with thousands of different varieties of 
marijuana, he could see clusters of small growers each focused on 
producing their own style of marijuana.

"Therefore, I think you'll see something very much like the wine 
market," he said. "The Central Valley could be an accelerated version 
of Napa Valley."

Local reactions to Schaffer's vision are not so enthusiastic.

"I would not want Lodi to be known as the marijuana capital of San 
Joaquin County," said Lodi Mayor Larry Hansen, a former police chief. 
"I like it being the zinfandel capital of the world."

Hansen said that he has come to realize that the nation is losing the 
war on drugs as it spends billions on enforcement and incarcerates 
people for various drug offenses. But he said "the cop in me" knows 
that legalization will come with further abuse.

If there's no threat of incarceration or arrest, Hansen said more 
people will be driving after smoking weed, or experimenting with harder drugs.

He said he wouldn't be surprised to see a ballot proposition to 
legalize marijuana, and he also wouldn't lose sleep if someone were 
to open a pot farm near Lodi.

"If it was legalized, it's out of my hands," he said. "I wouldn't 
like it, but I wouldn't fret or agonize over it."

Hansen noted that a few local winegrape growers have opted to pull 
their vines in favor of olive trees, so he knows they're open to new 
crops, but he said the stigma that comes with marijuana would be hard 
to overcome.

And he added that he just doesn't understand the allure.

"I never tried it. I've never wanted to try it. I've never understood 
it, so it's hard for me to grasp the draw to it because I've never 
experienced it," he said.

Joe Valente, former San Joaquin County Farm Bureau president and 
vineyard manager for Kautz Farms, was surprised at the very thought 
of local farmers growing marijuana.

"I've never heard a farmer saying they'd be interested in doing it," 
he said. "I could understand they could grow it and tax the hell out 
of it, but politically it's still an illegal drug, and how do you get 
past that hurdle?"

And Valente added that claims of legalized weed being a cure-all for 
the state's finances could prove too good to be true once marijuana 
cultivation is put to the test of the open market.

"The crops that make money, everyone plants, and then there's an 
oversupply of it and prices go down so they have to look at something 
else," he said.

Prices would drop with legalization, Schaffer said, but he points out 
that wine is still a profitable business, and he maintains that the 
market could sustain several different price points -- meaning that 
if a farmer works to produce the very best product, he could still 
see a healthy profit.

He estimates the return to farmers to be in the range of tens of 
billions of dollars.

Jon Tecklenburg, owner of Tecklenburg Ranch, said he could see the 
money-making potential of marijuana, and he also knows from stumbling 
on illegal marijuana crops tucked away in corn fields and on Delta 
islands that the plant would prosper in the valley.

But as someone who has had melons and other produce stolen from his 
ranch, it's the security question that concerns him.

"Offend me, no; but worrisome, yes. I'd be more concerned with guys 
trying to steal it," he said.

Tecklenburg said he now has a six-foot-tall fence topped with barbed 
wire to protect his produce, and wonders what would be needed to 
secure a pot farm.

Schaffer said that any farmer who didn't have the resources to 
protect his investment would be quickly forced out of business.

He said there's no end to the nation's demand for marijuana, and 
there's three sources of supply: organized crime, private business or 
the government.

Right now, he said, organized crime is running the show, and the 
government would do a terrible job.

"Think of the situation if the government decided to produce all the 
wine. You wouldn't get much variety, and mediocre quality," he said.

That leaves the private sector, and Schaffer said he's already 
getting several calls a week from people who are trying to find 
resources for more information on how to grow themselves.

"The typical profile of someone who wants to go into growing is an 
established businessman with interests in other property who's never 
considered it before," he said. "These are basically established, 
mature business people who want to do it as a business. They want to 
be in on the ground floor."


How much money could you make?

Cliff Schaffer, an expert on drug laws and a proponent of 
decriminalizing marijuana, said the returns on pot could be astounding.

He breaks it down like this:

# Assume 20 square feet per plant.

# That's about 2,000 plants per acre.

# A plant yields about $4,000 worth of marijuana.

# At $4,000 per plant that equals $8 million per acre.

# Cut that in half as the price drops with legalization and that's 
still $4 million an acre.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom