The year 2020 begins the third year of a planned five-year process for the legalization of cannabis in California. Last year was a mixture of incredible accomplishments, and minor setbacks, but overall, there was much forward progress made toward building a robust legal cannabis industry in California.
The biggest accomplishment came from the federal government via the bi-partisan 2019 Farm Bill which legalized cultivation of hemp throughout the USA. (Hemp has no THC content and cannot “get you high.”) And action at the federal level to legalize marijuana in 2020 appears highly possible. The legalization process is gaining momentum, and now is the time for Plumas County to take a more rational and business like approach to regulating a local cannabis industry.
The total current market for marijuana in the USA is estimated to be approximately $20 billion. But the market for hemp is conservatively projected to become 10 times larger ($200 billion). Hemp cultivation may someday rival corn and soybeans for prominence in American agriculture.
But, despite optimistic long-term projections, there is a lot of large-scale industrial infrastructure needed for hemp cultivation to reach its full potential. It will take several years, and perhaps two to three decades for the hemp industry to reach its maximum market penetration. Patience and skillful business development are required to succeed with hemp.
It was a quiet year for cannabis during 2019 in Plumas County. There was some need for enforcement of the moratorium on commercial cannabis (marijuana) cultivation, but much less than in 2018. Plumas county farmers planted their first hemp crops in 2019, so our region has a good start on someday reaping the benefits of being a prominent region for the cultivation of high end hemp. And if we do become such a prominent hemp production region, it is possible that hemp processing and manufacturing businesses may choose to locate in Plumas county to be close to their source of supply. All this could mean jobs, and perhaps hundreds of jobs for future Plumas county residents.
In 2020, I believe it is important for our local government to re-visit the moratorium on commercial cannabis cultivation in light of the legalization of hemp, and the possible federal legalization of marijuana in the near future. I would much prefer to see us plan for a reasonable and well-regulated cannabis industry in Plumas County, rather than have it dictated to us by decisions made in Washington D.C. The draft ordinance of the 2017 Cannabis Working Group would be a good starting point for local government to re-visit commercial cannabis cultivation, for both hemp and marijuana.
The inclusion of the requirement for a Special Use Permit in the Working Group’s draft ordinance for commercial cultivation of cannabis in Plumas County provided a powerful tool for local government to control the scale of how a future cannabis industry would develop. The Special Use Permit requirement also provided the flexibility to make needed adjustments for local regulations as the legalization process for marijuana, and the industrial buildout for hemp, continue to evolve. Flexibility, patience, and long term planning are key ingredients for Plumas county having a positive experience with cannabis.
In retrospect, the 2017 debate in Plumas County would have been much different had federal legalization of hemp been a reality at that time. Federal legalization of hemp literally “re-set the board” for cannabis legalization, both in California and across the USA.
Now that hemp is legal in the whole USA, and marijuana is legal in California, Plumas County would be wise to accept this reality and address the challenges of regulating a fully legal cannabis industry in a calm and rational manner so that trusted and skilled local business persons can use the magic of capitalism and free enterprise to bring clean & sustainable new jobs to our local economy.