At this very moment, while you are reading this, scores of people all over California are sitting in living rooms, plotting ways to get rich on the next gold rush.
Weed. The new dot com. It will rival alcohol in size and scope, because Californians, like the rest of the world, have an insatiable desire to take the edge off. And on January 1, 2018, a new multibillion-dollar industry was birthed: recreational, adult-use cannabis.
Who are these “cannapreneurs?” The usual. Mostly white males of privilege, circling their next kill. Who else can afford the millions it costs to open sleek storefronts, or massive grow facilities, plus all the legal maneuvering that comes with it. Capitalism, baby. Want a permit for a dispensary or cultivation? Better know or contribute to people in high places, because local municipalities are presiding over a game show called, “Who wants to be a millionaire?” It’s the one category of retail that Amazon can’t wreck. Yet.
On the bright side, the rest of us will get good jobs, because cannabis will be the single biggest job creator since dot coms. Bigger, because it’s a physical product that requires cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sales. It may even rival coal as a job creator.
Back in the 70’s when I was introduced to the flower, the world consisted of rolling papers, a $35 bag of brown Columbian, and a tray to catch all the seeds while you cleaned it. But on January 1, any adult over 21 years old can walk into a dispensary and find hundreds of fragrant, sticky icky buds with fanciful names, various potencies, and distinct flavor profiles. You can choose between Indica, Sativa or hybrid; indoor, outdoor or greenhouse grown: energy inducing, sexual enhancing, relaxing, or couch locking. Instead of old school Ziplocs, they will come in reversible cap vials, pop top bottles, joint tubes, blunt tubes, wide mouth jars, glass jars, or Mylar, smell-proof bags. Need some rolling papers? What kind? Regular, flavored, hemp, rice, cones, blunts, or blunt wraps? Don’t forget to throw in a grinder.
But smoking cannabis is so yesterday. It’s like the fax machine - too slow and cumbersome to deliver the message. Why not vape, which is handy, requires no flame, and allows you to inhale THC without the toxins (except for the butane needed to make them work). It’s already far bigger than flower. So are concentrates, a highly potent a way of isolating THC. There’s wax, crumble, shatter, blond, and clear. While most flower potency ranges between 10-20%, these bad boys clock in at up to 98% THC. So please, try this at home only, on a recliner. Because you’ll also need your dab gear – elaborate glass pipes (bubblers, water pipes, or hand pipes), nails, caps, domes, dabbers, extraction tubes, converters, cleaners, mats, trays, and of course the lovely butane.
Then there are edibles. Cannabis has been infused in nearly every food group: chocolates, cookies, cakes, energy bars, energy drinks, sodas, beer, wine, olive oils, and butters. There are cannabis infused balms, salves and skin creams, as well as suppositories, sexual lubricants and body oils.
Jobs will come in every sector; agriculture, warehousing, testing labs, transportation, processing, manufacturing, packaging, merchandising, retail, and all the services around it. An eco-system with media, technology, events, investors, and regulatory commissions.
But where does this leave the small, Northern California grower who has been the backbone of the industry all these years, and shouldered the risk to provide cannabis for half a century to a world that clearly wanted it? Up the creek, I’m afraid. These farmers have long had a sacred bond with the flower, and while some may label them outlaws, others would call them freedom fighters. But being a small grower, and depending on things that are so passé, like soil, water, sun, won’t cut it in a world where indoor grows, artificial lighting, and pesticides can yield 4 times as many grow cycles.
If that’s not bad enough, Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R–Palmdale), introduced legislation last month empowering the California Highway Patrol to be the lead state law enforcement agency to investigate and prosecute black market cannabis. He wants to put the squeeze on illegal exports to other states, which currently accounts for 80% of what’s grown here (11 million out of 13.5 million pounds). He claims clamping down on that activity will keep Jeff Sessions and the Feds off our back. But interestingly, Tom is a former Highway Patrol officer himself. A little back scratching? And who else does going after small growers benefit? Oh yeah, the big growers, like the ones near Tom’s district in the desert.
The industry isn’t for the feint hearted. Cannabis is still a federal offense, and it will be the most highly regulated, scrutinized legal product in the history of the world. If you have the stomach for endless city, county, state and federal scrutiny and intervention, plus confusing and overlapping laws, and a federal classification that still carries up to a 20-year sentence per infraction, then have at it. The rest of just can just sit on the couch, puff away, and wonder how much money we could have made on that great idea we had that someone else stole.