marijuana-leaf

By Ian Lovett
April 11, 2016

ADELANTO, Calif. — After decades of thriving in legally hazy backyards and basements, California’s most notorious crop, marijuana, is emerging from the underground into a decidedly capitalist era.

Under a new state law, marijuana businesses will be allowed to turn a profit — which has been forbidden since 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis — and limits on the number of plants farmers can grow will be eliminated.

The opening of the marijuana industry here to corporate dollars has caused a mad scramble, with out-of-state investors, cannabis retailers and financially struggling municipalities all racing to grab a piece of what is effectively a new industry in California: legalized, large-scale marijuana farming.

And with voters widely expected to approve recreational marijuana use in November, California, already the world’s largest legal market for marijuana, gleams with the promise of profits far beyond what pot shops and growers have seen in Washington or Colorado, the first states to approve recreational use.

“People are definitely salivating over the California market,” said Troy Dayton, chief executive of the ArcView Group, a research firm in the Bay Area that specializes in marijuana. “It’s huge, and Californians love cannabis so much.”

In search of a tax windfall, cities across the Southern California desert, like Adelanto and Desert Hot Springs, have raced to be first to permit commercial marijuana cultivation. The price of land here tripled almost overnight as entrepreneurs bought up every inch of property where pot-growing was permitted — most of it bare desert dotted with only Joshua trees and tumbleweeds.

And celebrities who for years have supported the open use of marijuana are also seeking a piece of the action: Musicians like Snoop Dogg and one of Bob Marley’s sons, Ky-Mani Marley, have been meeting with officials about licensing marijuana grown here.

Amid the frenzy, though, anxiety is growing in some corners of the state that corporate money will squeeze out not only the small-time growers, but also the hippie values that have been an essential part of marijuana’s place in California culture.

Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame, has long been synonymous with California’s outlaw stoner culture, growing his own pot and crafting bongs from kombucha bottles at his Los Angeles home. Now his representatives are negotiating with a company in Adelanto to mass produce his brand of legal marijuana, “Chong’s Choice,” here.

“If conglomerates come in, my answer is: God bless ’em — it saves me the hassle,” Mr. Chong, 77, said in a telephone interview.

“Fashion changes, haircuts change,” Mr. Chong said. “We go through cultural changes.”

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