Legalizing Recreational Marijuana Could Combat California's Drought

California has slowly but surely been drying up. Most significantly, this has meant four terrible years for the state's agricultural industry — one of the biggest in the country — which has been slapped down with tight water restrictions seen its crops perish.

Despite urgent measures put into place by the government in June aiming to reduce the state's water consumption by 25%, the drought will cost farmers around $1.8 billion in revenue. In the short term, this will also lead to around 20,000 job losses.

However, a report by Gizmodo has offered a solution that could get California, at least temporarily, out of this untenable situation. The proposition: to make recreational marijuana use legal.

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(Photo: AP)

Since 1996 and Proposition 215, the state has authorized the production of medical marijuana and is now home to around 50,000 farms. These farms are spread mainly across three state counties ― Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity County — in a region dubbed 'The Emerald Triangle', which grows around 60% of all US marijuana.

This is a market that, due to a lack of precise figures, is estimated at several billion dollars per year. Contrary to traditional agricultural activity, marijuana is not taxed and does not require the same licenses normal farming does, as its production functions as part of a collective. As a matter of fact, it is actually possible to combine several prescriptions to produce the herb.

A quarter of California's water stolen to produce the green stuff

As a result, more and more people are growing under these unregulated conditions that allow them to quench the gargantuan thirst of their plants. While some are carefully sprinkling water over their indoor plant with care and attention, some inexperienced growers are consuming entire rivers in a region that increasingly resembles a scene from Mad Max.

According to a report published by the Californian Department of Fish and Wildlife — a body charged with taking care of the state's wildlife — up to 23% of the flow of certain rivers may have been stolen by marijuana growers. This carries consequences for local farmers and residents alike, as well as compromising the surrounding wildlife, with aquatic life particularly at risk. 

According to the same report, marijuana production requires nearly six gallons of water per day, per plant: around the same amount required to grow tomatoes. Gizmodo, which interviewed producers and even the authors of the report, claims that this is a "high estimation". Nevertheless, the amount of water used remains much higher than restrictions permitted to the herb growers' farming colleagues. In other words, it's a completely imbalanced system that's just now getting ready to change. 

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(Photo: PA)

Regulation, regulation, regulation

On Friday, governor of California Jerry Brown passed three bills aiming to regulate the marijuana industry, creating a legal ex nihilo structure around production sites and a regulatory authority — the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation — to be put into place in 2018.

From now on, California weed will be controlled, tested and tagged and production activity will be subject to a license with limits on production amount and, most importantly, will have to abide by water quotas. The aim is to encourage a system of small farms, similar to California's system of 4,400 winemakers, and to reduce the environmental impact of the industry by imposing responsible management of resources. 

The implementation of a tax is also being considered. However, this still has a little time to wait as only the complete legalisation of marijuana —like in the state of Colorado — would allow a single tax to be instated. But this tax is what the people want: from Gizmodo to the growers themselves who are keen to conform to the law.

An environmental policy that hits the jackpot

In November 2016, California will vote on a series of measures during the general election, including the legalization of recreational marijuana, gay marriage and a ban on supermarket plastic bags.

Over 2016, sixteen other states could potentially be set to do the same, while no legal framework yet exists neither federally nor in the states where the herb is legal (Colorado, Washington and Alaska). According to Gizmodo, the Far West's completely unregulated market desperately needs management policies to stabilize resources.

By legalizing weed next year, California could both establish a powerful tool against the waste of its natural resources and create a fantastic profit-making machine: one capable of surpassing the $70 million worth of tax collected by Colorado in 2014.

Never before has an environmental policy been so lucrative.

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