Could pot prove a boon to local agriculture?

Could pot prove a boon to local agriculture?

California voters will be faced with a dizzying list of voter initiatives when they pick up their ballot in November. Most are complex and allow lawmakers to sidestep lawmaking and throw up their hands to the will of the people.

The most closely observed of these measures is likely to be the one that would legalize recreational marijuana use. California wouldn’t be the first state to do so, should voters approve, but, as in all things, the state’s stamp of approval would change everything — international partnerships, federal enforcement and quite possibly how the locals feel about the drug and its place in our society.

San Mateo County Agriculture Commissioner Fred Crowder offered no opinion on the measure when questioned by the Review recently. He did, however, acknowledge that county officials are already meeting to discuss how legalized pot might change the landscape. And he had clearly been thinking about whether marijuana could — or should — become a cash crop here.

Recently, Crowder released his annual crop report for San Mateo County. It showed that, while the “unit value” of crops like Brussels sprouts and leeks are up, the total value of agriculture here is lagging. The reasons are varied, but federal immigration policy, which has kept many would-be migrant workers away, is not helping. Neither is the years-long drought. There is less livestock in the county, and the indoor floral industry continues to tank.

Could marijuana be the answer?

Good question. And don’t turn to states like Colorado, which legalized pot more than two years ago, for guidance. State officials there are noticeably ambivalent about the effect on the economy and society at large. More than $2 billion worth of pot has been sold in the state since it was legalized, and sales taxes from marijuana have easily outpaced taxes from alcohol sales over the period.

The Denver Post reports that at any given time there are a half million pot plants growing in Colorado now. That has got to be an intriguing thought to Coastside flower growers and others interested in a more vibrant economy.

Of course, there are many other factors to consider when talking about legalizing pot. There is the effect on public health policy and drug treatment programs. We would have to ensure that the drug isn’t available to kids and that the inevitable advertising messages don’t target them. It would have an effect on mass incarceration, law enforcement, tourism, labor. … There is a lot to consider. Count the potential boon for local agriculture in that mix.

— Clay Lambert

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