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Marijuana By Far Most Valuable Agricultural Crop in California, Report Finds

A new report from a Southern California newspaper finds that marijuana dominates California’s agricultural bounty.

California’s illegal marijuana production is worth more money than the next five leading crops combined, according to a recent report from the Orange County Register. Using data provided by California’s Department of Food and Agriculture and its own calculated estimate of in-state cannabis production, in 2015 the marijuana crop was worth an estimated $23.3 billion, nearly half of the state’s total cash farm receipts.

Based on the report’s estimations and the 2015 Crop Year Report from the state’s department of agriculture, here’s a look at the values of California’s top commodities:

  • Marijuana – $23.3 billion (estimated by the Orange County Register)
  • Milk – $6.29 billion
  • Almonds – $5.33 billion
  • Grapes – $4.95 billion
  • Cattle, calves – $3.39 billion
  • Lettuce – $2.25 billion

California is known for its agricultural bounty. Over a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in the west coast state. Gilroy is considered the “Garlic Capital of the World,” grapes cover 45,000 acres of the Napa Valley, and olive and almond trees dominate the state’s Central Valley. In 2015, California’s farms and ranches received approximately $47 billion for their output. However, according to the newspaper, California’s marijuana crop is the most valuable agricultural product in the entire nation.

To calculate its estimate of cannabis crop value, the newspaper began with the number of marijuana plants that had been seized by law enforcement in 2015, which was 2.6 million. Using the assumption that the seizure of illegal drugs accounts for 10 to 20 percent of drugs produced, a figure provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the paper estimated that a total of 13.2 million marijuana pot plants were cultivated in California in 2015.

The newspaper then used the assumption that each cannabis plant provides an average of one pound of useable marijuana and estimated that the price of illegally grown marijuana was $1,765 a pound ($110 per ounce) to come to its final calculation.

DEA marijuana illegal

Phillip Smith, author of Drug War Chronicle and editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter, recently examined the newspaper’s report in an article for Alternet. He felt the paper’s calculations were overly optimistic.

“Maybe law enforcement in California is damned good at sniffing out pot crops and seizes a higher proportion of the crop than the rule of thumb would suggest,” Smith wrote. “Still, even if the cops seized 40 percent of the crop and farmers only got $1,000 a pound, the crop would still be valued at $8 billion and still be at the top of the farm revenue heap.”

According to the report, California leads the nation in total marijuana plants seized every year. While California had 2.6 million plants seized in 2015, the remaining 49 states combined had 1.65 million plants seized. About one-third of the plants seized in California were grown in remote areas on public lands to avoid the risk of property forfeiture.

California was the first to adopt medical marijuana legislation in 1996 and last November voters approved a measure to legalize recreational marijuana. As of November 9, adults aged 21 and older are legally allowed to grow up to six plants per household. While medical marijuana sales in California are up 132 percent, retail sales of recreational marijuana won’t begin until 2018, after rules and regulations are established. The Orange County Register endorsed the recreational marijuana measure, Proposition 64. A report from ArcView Market Research estimates the state’s legal marijuana market will be worth $6.46 billion by the year 2020.

Learn about the cannabis laws in California by visiting our education page.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.

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