Growing marijuana has run in June’s family for three generations, a stretch that has seen universal prohibition give way to accelerating legalisation.
For well over a decade, June – who asked her real name not be used – and her husband have been among the thousands of Californians who cultivate pot in a state where the marijuana leaf has become as much of a symbol as the surfboard.
But, despite the grand opening of California’s recreational marijuana industry being mere months away, many of the people who have tended their plants beneath the evergreens and oaks of the state’s undulating hills aren’t sure they can stay in the business. A crop that should be becoming a boon risks becoming a burden, as many will have nowhere to sell what they’ve grown.
June and her husband, who built a consistent business supplying dispensaries and hoped to get right with the law, aren’t sure they can meet the necessary regulations – and costs – to keep selling what they grow in a newly legitimised industry.
“It’s putting us in a situation where if we’re not able to sell to that market any more we’re having to find new, illegal channels in a saturated market,” says June. “We would either have to shut down or find new avenues of sale on the black market or the unregulated market.”
They had moved from a location in the so-called Emerald Triangle, three counties in Northern California that form the state’s cultivation epicentre, to a discreet property in Sonoma County they thought would be better suited to meet the regulations they were sure were coming. But it may not be enough.
June’s struggles embody a contradiction at the heart of California’s burgeoning legal marijuana economy, which is set to fully launch in 2018. By sheer volume, the amount of cannabis grown in the state will vastly outstrip demand. But the market will also face a dearth of marijuana as farmers grapple with the prohibitive costs of going mainstream.
“Here’s the irony: there will be a huge oversupply of product and a shortage of regulated product,” says Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association. “We are looking at a unique situation where there’s a boatload of product and a lot of folks aren’t going to make it into the market.”