My journey into cannabis, like many of those in the industry, has been long and winding. From my days slinging eggs at the farthest north truck stop in the U.S., to my first gig shoveling dirt and dragging hoses; I’ve seen and done just about everything. The first job I had in the industry was on a medical collective in Nevada County, California. I had decided to join my good friend and former colleague on a 40-acre plot and learn the basics of growing cannabis. As a master grower in the olden hippie sense, I absorbed everything I could. While we weren’t in the infamous Emerald Triangle, Nevada County has a booming cannabis economy, and a thriving community of support, which opened me up to several realizations.
The cannabis industry is expansive. Whether it’s nutrients, soil, scissors, netting, amendments, or anything else along the way, the cannabis industry has it. I was amazed at the sheer number of grow stores available to the average cultivator. On the East Coast, cannabis hides in darkened alleys, basements, back woods sheds, and attics alike. It didn’t’ have the economic presence like California, the booming job growth, the sheer volume of competition. Every store I went to would offer a 10% discount, all part of a delicate dance to win my affection. This was truly free-market capitalism, and it had been made possible by cannabis, and a state’s willingness to allow it.
Another lesson I’ve learned over the years is how difficult cultivation can be. A lot of people think cannabis is easy to grow, all you have to do is put some seeds in the ground and watch the magic happen. While this is somewhat true, cultivating a quality product is another story. There are countless things that can go wrong during the life cycle of a plant, each of which keeps a farmer full of grey hairs and sleepless nights. Each variable throughout its life-cycle determines the quality of the finished product, some of which can destroy your crop overnight. California is an established market with an operation nearly every ten feet, and plenty of competition that is willing to settle for less.
While there are grow shops on every corner, farms every ten feet, and the smell of colitas all around you, the war on drugs is very much real. I remember the first time the Sheriff and his helicopter came buzzing overhead, the whirl of the rotors bouncing off the mountainsides, sending an omen of doom to those that might come under the purview of the man. I’ve seen my friends get raided, crops destroyed, lives ruined, all for pursuing a career in this industry. The harsh reality still stands, those days aren’t over. There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done at the legislative level. From educational outreach, to restructuring the corrupt incentives that fuel the drug war. Cannabis is still scheduled by the DEA as a Schedule I substance, a classification that is so undeserving, it boggles the average mind as to how it could be lumped together with such deadly substances as heroin and cocaine.
Looking back, I would do more to contribute to the efforts of normalizing this botanical. I have seen several close friends and family members end their dependence on opiates, several of which were staunch opponents to cannabis use. I now live back in Pennsylvania, and there is a tremendous amount of work that needs done here. There are many people that still think this plant has the potential to kill, and are ambivalent about its potential to heal. That being said, the momentum is on our side.
We will continue to see growth in nearly every sector in this industry, especially ancillary growth, but it may happen in smaller increments. The recent political developments, and the actions taken by the DOJ, are nothing but par for the course. Those that are new to the industry will ultimately be more reticent, and justly so. The threat of RICO is very real, and keeps many investors up at night.
States like Washington and Colorado have set the stage for legal adult-use, but the real “belle of the ball” is here, and in November, she passed Proposition 64. We are on the cusp of witnessing the largest cannabis market in the world take a more formal shape. With an estimated market value of 6 billion dollars, and upwards of 20,000 operators, California stands to maintain its crown as cannabis capital of the world. While we have had setbacks along the way, some larger than others, the momentum is too large to turn back now. Humans have been utilizing cannabis for thousands of years, and nothing will ever change that.