Pubdate: Tue, 12 Apr 2016
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2016 Star Advertiser
Author: Ian Lovett, New York Times


The State's Opening Up to For-Profit Marijuana Farming Has Lit a Frenzy

DELANTO, CALIF. )) After decades of thriving in legally hazy 
backyards and basements, California's most notorious crop, marijuana, 
is emerging from the underground into a decidedly capitalist era.

Under a new state law, marijuana businesses will be allowed to turn a 
profit - which has been forbidden since 1996, when California became 
the first state to legalize medical cannabis - and limits on the 
number of plants farmers can grow will be eliminated.

The opening of the marijuana industry here to corporate dollars has 
caused a mad scramble, with out-of-state investors, cannabis 
retailers and financially struggling municipalities all racing to 
grab a piece of what is effectively a new industry in California: 
legalized, large-scale marijuana farming.

And with voters widely expected to approve recreational marijuana use 
in November, California, already the world's largest legal market for 
marijuana, gleams with the promise of profits far beyond what pot 
shops and growers have seen in Washington or Colorado, the first 
states to approve recreational use.

"People are definitely salivating over the California market," said 
Troy Dayton, chief executive of the ArcView Group, a research firm in 
the Bay Area that specializes in marijuana. "It's huge and 
Californians love cannabis so much."

In search of a tax windfall, cities across the Southern California 
desert, like Adelanto and Desert Hot Springs, have raced to be first 
to permit commercial marijuana cultivation. The price of land here 
tripled almost overnight as entrepreneurs bought up every inch of 
property where pot-growing was permitted - most of it bare desert 
dotted with only Joshua trees and tumbleweeds.

And celebrities who for years have supported the open use of 
marijuana are also seeking a piece of the action: Musicians like 
Snoop Dogg and one of Bob Marley's sons, Ky-Mani Marley, have been 
meeting with officials about licensing marijuana grown here.

Amid the frenzy, though, anxiety is growing in some corners of the 
state that corporate money will squeeze out not only the small-time 
growers, but also the hippie values that have been an essential part 
of marijuana's place in California culture.

Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame, has long been synonymous with 
California's outlaw stoner culture, growing his own pot and crafting 
bongs from kombucha bottles at his Los Angeles home. Now he is 
negotiating with a corporate partner to license his own brand of 
legal marijuana.

"If conglomerates come in, my answer is: God bless 'em - it saves me 
the hassle," Chong, 77, said in a telephone interview.

But Patrick Murphy, a cannabis farmer in Humboldt County, a lush area 
on the northwest coast known for growing high-quality pot, said he 
had already seen a "corporate takeover" of the marijuana industry in 
many other states.

"In California, especially in Humboldt, we have a code of conduct: 
Respect the land and respect the people," he said. "I don't want that 
culture to be replaced by guys in $5,000 suits."

Twenty-three states allow some form of legal marijuana, and up to 20 
will consider ballot measures this year to further ease restrictions.

California is now making the largest effort in the country's history 
to pull marijuana out of the black market. Medical marijuana sales in 
California hit $2.7 billion last year, accounting for nearly half of 
all legal marijuana sales in the country, according to ArcView and 
New Frontier, another cannabis research company. Approval of 
recreational marijuana use in November could double the market here 
by 2020, experts said.

The law will take full effect by 2018, when a medical marijuana czar 
will institute licensing, testing of products and tracking from "seed 
to sale." Aside from the all-cash business model - banks are 
prohibited under federal law from doing business with companies that 
grow, sell or process marijuana - the entire industry will be out in the open.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom