Today, Southern California farmers looking to grow cannabis have reasons to be hopeful.
In the last 16 months, the state has enacted two laws that chart a legal path forward for commercial cannabis farming – the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act– the state scheduled to issue its first licenses in January 2018.
While this is promising, farmers still have significant barriers to overcome at the local level.
As it stands, they need to get zoning approval from local jurisdictions before they can apply for a state license. And despite a huge shift in public attitudes, there are still those in city and county governments who refuse to believe commercial cannabis farms can be run in a responsible manner.
Speaking for farmers in Riverside, San Diego, Imperial and Orange counties, we’d like to respectfully disagree. Legal, commercial farming can be done with proper oversight. (In fact, it’s already being done in northern counties such as Mendocino and Humboldt.)
Currently there seven state agencies tasked with regulating cannabis production from seed to customer – three that directly oversee cultivation activities: The Department of Food and Agriculture, the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Cannabis farming is no longer done on the fringe. Today, it represents a strong economic engine that is coming online across the state – one that will fuel new job growth and bolster existing business services and products that cater to the agricultural sector.
According to New Frontier – a cannabis research firm based in Washington D.C. – the state’s cannabis sales are expected to grow to $6.4 billion by the 2020. This means California will potentially collect more than $1 billion in annual tax and licensing revenues, much of which is to be distributed to local jurisdictions.
This isn’t even counting taxes levied by local jurisdictions.
The industry also has the potential to generate thousands of living wage jobs.
On average, cannabis farm employees make between $40,000 to $90,000 annually. A part time gardener’s annual wages are typically between $20,000 and $25,000. Full time garden managers and others can be as high as $150,000.
In San Diego, Imperial, Orange and Riverside Counties, the average worker involved in farming, fishing or forestry makes just $19,790 per year, according to the Living Wage Calculator, an online resource provided by MIT. (http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/06073)
That’s well below the average living wage in those four counties, which is just over of $25,500 per single adult, according to MIT.
The sheer number of jobs generated by cannabis farming is also significant. A 5,000 to 10,000-square-foot, mixed-light farm typically employs between 20 to 30 full time workers, while a 22,000 square-foot, mixed-light farm would require 25 to 45 workers.
But all this economic activity will be pass us by if we don’t come together.
This is why we formed the Southern California Responsible Growers Council. The council is a group of more than 80 farmers, entrepreneurs and business people across four counties who want to guide the future of cannabis- and hemp-related agriculture in Riverside County and beyond.
As with any industry, we believe cannabis farmers can (and should) work with local communities to bring this new engine online and make it work for all residents.
Our goals include advocating for common-sense policies that protect small farms, reduce black-market activity and end trespass-grows on public lands. They also include working with local public health and safety experts to safeguard communities and the environment.
Our members are also committed to a business-to-business sales model. That means farmers selling to legal distributors – with no sales to the general public.
We’re here to address and overcome concerns that residents have typically voiced. That’s not only right – it’s necessary if we are to build sustainable farms and establish a place in the region’s legitimate business community.
There is a lot at stake – and not just for farmers.
We all have a stake in the discussion ahead. We’re not naïve; we know legalization has been a controversial, often emotional, issue for some time.
It doesn’t have to be.
Our members are real people. Some are families that farmed in Southern California for generations. Others are new entrepreneurs. All are people who just want to farm their lands legally and in a way that is acceptable and beneficial to communities.
We can do this – and do it responsibly. We just need freedom to grow.
Anthony Wagner is a land-use policy expert who serves as executive director of the Southern California Responsible Growers Council. Micah Anderson is a ranch owner in Riverside county and serves as president of the SCRGC.