California's cannabis industry has had to worry about federal raids, failed attempts at full legalization, and falling prices as a result of a robust supply.
Now it has Mother Nature to contend with.
After years of decent crops, the business will face our historic drought. At least one expert predicts that the result for you, the consumer, will be much higher prices:
Legendary marijuana activist, author and grower Ed Rosenthal made the prediction earlier this month, and he still has the community talking.
He told us he thinks that marijuana prices could ultimately double by late summer or early fall as a result of a drought-choked supply.
Nothern California has been particularly hard hit by this drought. And it's the epicenter of America's outdoor marijuana growing scene. When you think of emerald hills, you think Humboldt County. While harvest traditionally starts in summer, this year there will be slim pickings, Rosenthal says:
Mid-summer you're going to see streams drying up. And so I think that they won't harvest much crop in the fall. It will put upward pressure on price. But it's like milk. People are still going to use it in the same quantity no matter what the price is.
One L.A. dispensary insider disputed that take, however, saying that most of Southern California's medical marijuana is comprised of the powerful “strains” cultivated in grow houses throughout the region. Those operations use a lot of electricity. And, yes, they use water, but not in the amounts seen with irrigated outdoor grows.
“It won't affect Southern California,” he said. “We all grow indoors.”
Rosenthal doesn't dispute that much of the powerful, designer greenery you see in SoCal dispensaries is from grow houses. However, he points out that the most burgeoning segment of retailing – concentrates, including the kinds of waxes and oils popular with users of “vape pens” – is often distilled from low-grade, outdoor weed.
He says that up to 40 percent – and growing – of dispensary sales these days is comprised of these popular concentrates.
“If concentrates aren't available,” he told us, “there's going to be an upward push on price.”
Low-grade Mexican marijuana could fill some of that void, Rosenthal said, but also look out for the possibility that recreational marijuana states like Colorado could end up exporting cannabis to California:
If there's not enough to supply California's needs, then California might very well become a pot importer next year.
We spoke to Bay Area-based Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML, on Tuesday. He agreed that it has been an amazingly dry year, even with rain finally hitting the state today:
I suppose it's premature to speculate. But I've never seen it this dry up here this time of the year in Northern California. There are no creeks flowing the way they usually are. And the hills are as brown as they are green.
He's more optimistic that cannabis will survive the drought better than some of California's other signature crops. He concurs, for example, with the observation that much of the retail marketplace is dominated by indoor product:
Most dispensaries prefer indoor grade because of the higher quality. It's my feeling that a lot of outdoor goes out of state. A lot of people think that the availability of Colorado pot has produced a lot of spare, low-grade material for concentrates.
Gieringer said he can't imagine this fall being worse than the manmade disaster of 1990 and '91, when law enforcement destroyed many Northern California crops and produced a dry spell for the market.
“I'm concerned about the drought,” he said, “but I don't think it will be comparable to the man-made pot drought we had back then.”