Legal pot growing would only require 10,000 acres.

I had sort of known that agricultural pot growing would wipe out illegal grows immediately, because it is said to be incredibly easy to grow.  But I hadn’t realized how little land it would require.  Keith Humpheys at the Reality Based Community says it would only require 10,000 acres of land. (I rounded up.)  If it is “thirsty”*, that would be about 40,000af/y.  That’s nothing for ag.  There are farms on the west side of the valley of more than 50,000 acres.  Providing the entire country’s pot cultivation wouldn’t even be their major crop.

It would be so much nicer to have 100 ten-acre farms, although even that would barely support a farm town.  They could all be in one water district!  Really, this should happen just to get the grow sites out of the mountains.

*I dislike the concept of “thirsty” crops.  My first objection is that the difference between thirsty and non-thirsty isn’t that big.  Most crops need about 3 to 3.5 af/a-y if you include salt-flushing, which you should.  “Thirsty” might be about 4 af/a-y, which is more, but not enough more for me to get riled about.  That’s nothing compared to the amount of water that goes into growing food to feed to animals (the losses from going up a trophic level).  The increment between “non-thirsty” and “thirsty” is also less than the difference between well-managed irrigation and poorly-managed irrigation.

If the crop is important, I’m not going to object to it because it requires 15 or 20% more water to grow than some other crop.  We still have enough water for that.  When water is short, however, my choice would be to supply Californians with market crops and then make conscious decisions about growing more stuff vs having nice rivers.


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11 responses to “Legal pot growing would only require 10,000 acres.

  1. Uti

    I can tell you from direct experience that cannabis is not the water thirsty crop it’s made out to be. The CDF&W says in their 2014 study (Bauer,et al.) that water use averages 6 to 10 gallons a day per plant for the entire growing season of 120-150 days. That’s pure bunk because if you used that much water on the plants in the early vegetative state it would drown the roots and kill the plant. DFW’s cites two sources in their study, a book by a SoCal High Times magazine writer (eye roll unavoidable) and a white paper presented to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors in 2010 that mirrored the 99 plant Medical Marijuana ordinance in neighboring Mendocino County in which the objective of the grower was to maximize the size of the plants—if the limitation of the law is numbers of plants then you maximize your production with huge plants that were capable of producing 7+ pounds of dried flower (that program was shut down by the U.S. attorney who threatened to go after elected oficials). Typical outdoor grown plants in the hills of the Emerald Triangle produce 1 to 2 pounds of dried flower. Greenhouse and light deprivation grown plants are different. Smaller plants = less water needed.

    The point here is that the water needs of cannabis has not been scientifically measured and documented, largely because no one is asking for the science and I’m sure the agricultural universities are intimidated by the federal government. That needs to change. Given the economic value of the crop it warrants study.

    The water per plant metric just doesn’t work because of too many variables. The metric that does work is gallons per day per pound of dried flower, which is more in line with traditional agriculture. To that end a group of growers who are advocating legalization and regulation have done their own study and for an outdoor grown plant producing 2 pounds in Mendocino-Southern Humboldt grown with best practices water use works out to a ratio of 1:1:1 one gallon or water per day per pound for the entire cultivation cycle.

    But for right now the old prohibitionist mentality is controlling the narrative and they’re telling everyone marijuana is a thirsty crop that’s killing the salmon bearing watersheds. People who live and grow marijuana in the Triangle counties cynically dismiss the news as just more Drug War rhetoric, a move by law enforcement to continue to justify their budgets, their expensive toys of war and overtime.

    Living in the Emerald Triangle I couldn’t disagree more with consolidating and moving pot production to large Valley farms. Where water is concerned what we lack is taxpayer subsidized water infrastructure to deliver irrigation water from mountains and rivers far away, while in fact we export water from the Eel, the upper Klamath and Trinity rivers to agriculture and urban consumers. What that means is that for farmers in the mountainous North Coast everyone must provide for their own supply. And there’s the whole rub because up until the runaway expansion of cultivation of the past 6 or so years the abundant springs and creeks in the hills could provide enough water throughout the summer without negatively impacting the spawning creeks, so there was no incentive to invest in storage. So what’s making pot farmers up here out to be the bad guys is not storing water in the winter and diverting water during the growing season during record drought. Large tanks and ponds can fix that and be filled with winter runoff at no cost to the salmonids.

    Remember we are a water rich region because we are the wettest spot in California receiving 60 to over 100 inches in normal years. Even in this past drought winter I recorded 61 inches in southern Humboldt up from the 2013-2014 winter’s 48 inches. Even in a drought I was able to collect and store a combination of rain and spring water to last me the whole summer without having to take the entire flow of the small spring that feeds the surface water that empties into a spawning creek at the bottom of the ridge.

    We don’t need huge growers for the state’s pot supply. I prefer the model of wine grape growing with appellations because of it’s diversity and many producers. There are just too many varieties of the plant with different qualities to turn it into corporate swill Budweiser. A lot of other people who grow pot and benefit from the industry agree with me and that was one of our messages to Lt. Governor Newsome when he brought his Blue Ribbon panel to Garberville. The climate here is ideal for growing the plant since it thrives with warm days and cool nights, though it will tolerate a fairly broad range of climate conditions like most successful weeds. There’s more than enough space to support smaller growers. And the area now has third generation pot farmers.

    So the bottom line is the negative impacts of commercial pot growing in the Emerald Triangle are not insurmountable. The rest of the state should be so lucky.

  2. onthepublicrecord

    I don’t have nearly your expertise, but back when I did look up the crop co-efficient for hemp, it was 1. Which means that hemp is as thirsty as a lawn, which is not all that “thirsty.”

  3. Uti

    Can you give me a reference source for that? I’d like to pass it along to a researcher friend.

  4. Uti

    “I had sort of known that agricultural pot growing would wipe out illegal grows immediately…”

    I don’t think so. During the period of time leading up to the legalization vote in Washington state the official analysis was stating that the marijuana black market would continue for at least a decade. They may have underplayed that a little, just like they overtaxed it and are now backing off and restructuring the taxes to encourage legal production and competition.

    Here’s why illegal cultivation won’t go away in California after legalization:
    • We’re exporters; we produce pot for the rest of the country and until it’s federally legal and/or the majority of states legalize we will continue to export more than can be consumed within the state.
    • If Colorado and Washington are any indication, illegal pot is incentivized by the high taxation, regulatory costs and control of the legal supply. The Black Market has a competitive advantage.

    The only way to kill the Black Market is to flood the market with cheap and easily obtainable product—prohibition in reverse, but that will never happen in the USA because one of the big selling points for legalization initiatives is raising revenues (sin taxes), which appeals to non-consumers. This isn’t left-leaning Uruguay who legalized specifically to keep the drug lords out of their country by setting the retail price at $1 per gram.

  5. onthepublicrecord

    The reference I found for a crop co-efficient for hemp before was here:
    but I am not seeing where I extracted a Kc of 1.

    Fortunately I found another here:

    which says: Kc = crop coefficient, equal to 0.4 from plant emergence to 6th fully expanded leaf, between 0.4 and 1.1 from 6th fully expanded leaf to complete plot covering.

    That is completely unremarkable. A crop coefficient of 1 means that it is the same as a well-tended field of grass. I don’t like the “thirsty” distinction, but I wouldn’t call something “thirsty” unless it had a crop coefficient of, like, 1.5 or higher. Here is a table of crop coefficients, all of them near 1: coefficients

  6. Uti

    Thanks for those links. I learned a lot from them and passed them along to my friend, a prominent wildlife researcher.

  7. Uti Deva should get a place on the Blue Ribbon Commission, honestly. Really well reasoned counter to Keith’s clearly under-informed opinion, no offense Keith.

  8. The debate about sustainable farming practices should not devolve into us-vs.-them rhetoric about how North Coast farms are somehow superior to Central Valley locations. The widespread conversion of marginal range and forest lands in sensitive watersheds provides ample evidence that the North Coast has some explaining to do, especially if it gets up in arms about “centralized” large-scale farming in the Central Valley. That’s an economic/political argument, not an environmental one.

    This history of cannabis cultivation in the Emerald Triangle is rooted in Prohibition, first and foremost, with additional cultural inputs from so-called “old hippies” who were willing to unplug from mainstream society for assorted reasons. The mere fact that cannabis growers have co-opted lands previously used for timber production does not make those rural lands innately superior for farming; in fact, the available evidence suggests the opposite. Compare and contrast with the Central Valley, which has rich and ample farmland that doesn’t require terraforming or clearing to utilize. Even so, we too suffer from environmental degradation caused by large-scale growing operations — many of them quite illegal — on range and forest lands with inadequate water supplies. The more state and local law enforcement cracked down on such grows, however, the more illicit growers decided to relocate to valley locations. Anecdotally, we also know that some of those growers headed to the hills in Humboldt-Mendo-Trinity, and now state-compliant growers are caught in the cross-fire.

    If you want to pursue economic incentives for small growers, create regional appellations for the Emerald Triangle, etc., by all means do so. If anyone thinks for one minute that opposing cannabis farming on Central Valley farmland is a good strategy long-term, however, he or she should check their environmental credentials at the door. We cannot condone propping up the gray market of North Coast “farmers” at the expense of the patients and people who wish to farm lawfully and productively in the Central Valley.

    • Uti

      A few responses to Bud’s comments:
      When when someone suggests that 3 generations of pot farmers should give up their livelihoods so their industry can be moved elsewhere deemed “more appropriate” it becomes ALL about “us and them”.

      Any flyover of the North Coast will reveal non-forest agricultural lands in excess of the acreage needed to supply legal cannabis for the state, so it’s not going away. We may not have a wide flat valley like the Central Valley, but even a drive up highway 101 and down it’s side roads will reveal miles of wine grapes, hay fields and orchards. The river bottom lands along the rivers are productive agricultural lands. It may not be big farm country in the Central Valley sense, but then cannabis for recreational and medical uses is not suited for farming on that scale. Industrial hemp certainly is suited to mechanized farming and would be a good rotational crop in the Valley from what I’ve read though I’ve also just read from the links the OTPR provided that some C. sativa hemp fiber and seed cultivars grown in the Mediterranean region of Europe may not grow optimally in the hotter parts of the Valley. I don’t know about the indica-sativa hybrids for medicinal and recreational, other than they love the North Coast climate.

      Bud Green: “The more state and local law enforcement cracked down on such grows, however, the more illicit growers decided to relocate to valley locations.”
      Historically incorrect; just the opposite happened. With the initiation of the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting in 1983—CAMP’s helicopter surveillance drove marijuana cultivation out of the open to the edges of forests where the plants were grown in partial shade to avoid detection, but more importantly cultivation moved indoors into any building that could be utilized for cultivation under 1,000 watt halide lamps and which were powered by large diesel powered generators—the infamous diesel doping days where record high prices for the stronger THC indoor pounds incentivized an influx of entrepreneurs who came for profit and nothing else.

      By the time CAMP had run out of funding law enforcement officials began to admit winning the War On Pot was futile due to Proposition 215’s vague language and an ever increasing market demand for California pot, yet another wave of potrepreneurs arrived. Incentivized by relaxed enforcement, falling wholesale prices and the surging popularity of light deprivation growing that allowed at least 2 crops per year they began to openly expand the grows over the past 6 or so years undaunted by the drought, doing much the same thing as almond growers who continue to plant trees and drill deeper wells because the canals are dry. Google Earth image history has documented the transformation of the Emerald Triangle .

      Bud Green: “Compare and contrast with the Central Valley, which has rich and ample farmland that doesn’t require terraforming or clearing to utilize.” You’re writing about one of the most “terraformed” man-made landscapes on Earth that subsists on water that falls on mountains and forests hundreds of miles away. If growing nut trees on a million acres of that land is deemed the “highest use of the land”, or if bulldozing the oak woodlands of the Russian river valleys to plant wine grapes is the “highest use of the land”, then why is using a few thousand acres of cut over timber lands that were deemed not worthy of replanting and long term management and sold off by the timber companies or sold off by the county for back taxes, not also afforded the same status? Why are fir trees more precious than oak trees?

  9. Like I said, this should not devolve into us-vs.-them arguments. I know folks in Humboldt care deeply about “three generations” of farming, but the fact remains that most of that farming was not especially legal even under generous interpretations of Prop. 215 and SB 420. The notion that the Emerald Triangle should now be grandfathered in as the epicenter of California cannabis cultivation at the expense of other regions and other growers is more than selfish, it’s also short-sighted. The Central Valley gets hemp and you get all the green buds? Seriously?

    The truth is that cannabis farming already occurs in the Central Valley on a very widespread scale, but folks are less transparent about it because of hard-nosed law enforcement tactics that older growers in Humboldt remember well. If you support legalization, you should support the idea of a level economic playing field that covers not only cultivation but also processing and distribution. Not just in Humboldt, but statewide.

  10. onthepublicrecord

    I am going to close comments here; you’ve both made some great comments and replies. I was impressed with your measured and sophisticated comments. But I am not a pot-blogger and don’t want to host a conversation that I don’t understand well myself.