Northern California’s marijuana growers see big threat

For more than 40 years, the Emerald Triangle — “a densely forested region of labyrinthine back roads, secret valleys, and perennial creeks in Northern California” — has been a great place to grow a prohibited but highly desired product: marijuana. But this area is now coming under massive pressure with the state’s legalization of recreational weed, reports Stett Holbrook in FERN’s latest story, published with GRIST, “The high price of cheap weed.”

The Emerald Triangle is the “Napa Valley of Cannabis,” Holbrook writes. “And just as wine growing and tourism dominate Napa County’s economy, so does cannabis dominate here, helping to fill the void created by the collapse of the once-robust fishing and timber industries.”

But with the legalization of recreational weed, all that is about to change. Although there will be environmental benefits, smaller growers that have historically planted in the area will now face new competition from  large-scale, cut-rate growers. Fred Krissman, a Humboldt State University anthropologist who conducts field studies of cannabis growers in the region, predicts “massive increases in unemployment, poverty, child hunger — a disaster.”

The new competition is coming from the Salinas Valley, among other places, where growers are taking over abandoned floral greenhouses and turning them into cannabis operations. These feed the legal market, which is expected to grow from $1.8 billion to $5.8 billion in the next four years.

Grupo Flo is one of the new competitors Holbrook highlights. It expects revenues of $30 million next year, and more than $80 million in 2019.

For the smaller growers in the Emerald Triangle, some of whom span generations, there are only a few possible paths forward. They must adopt the marketing lessons of Napa Valley and create an appellation system for cannabis similar to the one for wine. Others see the equivalent of a farm-to-table movement helping the smaller growers battle the industrialization of weed.