While there are still 21 U.S. states without legalized marijuana in some form, there are others, like California, where pot is not only legal, but where residents have access to way more marijuana than they can actually consume. It’s true, there may actually be too much California marijuana.
California was already one of the nation’s biggest pot producers when it became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Last November, residents in the Golden State voted to approve the legal sale and possession of an ounce of pot for recreational use, and now, with growers seizing the opportunity to make some bank in the booming business, the supply of California marijuana far outweighs demand.
According to CBS13 in Sacramento, California produces between 14 and 16 million tons of marijuana annually — some 12.5 million to 14 million more tons than it needs. At a panel discussion held by the Sacramento Press Club in July, Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, said that state-licensed growers “are going to have to scale back” their marijuana surplus.
“We are on a painful downsizing curve,” he said.
While recreational sales of California marijuana will be legal as of January 1, 2018, lawmakers are still discussing the number and scope of new regulations that will accompany the new sales. As the Oregon Cannabis Connection points out, things like license limits, plant and canopy limits, and enforcement actions are still up in the air — items that lawmakers must reconcile in order to maximize trade of the state’s legal and taxable marijuana while, at the same time, shrinking the unregulated market.
Balancing the scales won’t be easy. Current federal law bans interstate trade of cannabis, and California law will ban the export of pot after January 1. At that point, Allen says, growers will have to make a choice. They can get a license and face pressure to reduce their crops — as well as face stiff competition from other legal growers with similar surpluses — or they can try (like some are already doing) to operate without a license by selling cannabis to buyers in other states via the illegal black market. They could just decide to quit, too.
Allen says those growing and selling pot illegally will face prosecution sooner or later. Instead, he says, he would love to see state and local governments across the nation license and open shops for growers to sell California’s surplus pot, and, indeed, those discussions are happening.
Dr. Aseem Sappal, a dean at Oakland’s Oaksterdam University, also laments the fact that growers could face prosecution.
“Nobody wants to operate under the radar,” says Dr. Sappal. “They want to do this legally. They want to say, ‘Hey, look, what I’m doing is okay.’”
Students at Oaksterdam study marijuana, and Dr. Sappal predicts that growers in the legal market will come up with myriad ways to sell the state’s surplus. One of those ways could be to convert cannabis into oil.
Dr. Sappal says that roughly 75 pounds of marijuana — which is a sizeable portion — can produce roughly 5 liters of oil. The fact that a lot of pot is needed to “make a little oil,” he says, creates a “very good avenue” to use up the surplus.
The new regulations will be decided by January 1. Until then, Californians should smoke ‘em (and vape ‘em, and eat ‘em, and drink ‘em, and bake stuff with ‘em) if they got ‘em.