Booming marijuana cultivation that is tearing apart many Northern California communities is expected to go ballistic once the state legalizes recreational marijuana on January 1.
The University of the Pacific’s latest “Economic Impact Assessment of the Cannabis Cultivation Industry in Calaveras County,” estimated that for the small county, with just 16,248 employed and a household income of $53,233, 2016 Cannabis Cultivation was the community’s largest industry. The total impact economic impact of cannabis cultivation was $251.5 million, providing about 2,605 jobs and $148.4 million of labor income.
That swamps Calaveras County’s second largest industry, Hospitality, with total sales of $167.5 million in sales and 1,955 mostly lower paid jobs. The county’s third-largest industry was family faming, with a total sales output of $28 million.
But marijuana’s tsunami of cash rolling into Calaveras County has come at a huge cost, according to County Supervisor Dennis Millis. He commissioned a study in cooperation with The Communications Institute and local government to measure “The Effect of Cannabis Cultivation on the Environment of Calaveras County.”
The study found that guerilla cannabis growers at 1,200 Calaveras County sites have caused enormous environmental damage through the illegal use of chemicals including Carbofuran (banned in the USA), Tripicote, Ammonium sulfate, Diamond Nector Humic Acids/Phosphates, Snow Story Ultra Potassium Supplement, Sonic Bloom (with vitamin B1), Butane, Romeo Fertilizer, Mighty Growth Enhancer, PH Down Phosphoric Aid, Ammoniacal Nitrogen, Emerald Goddess, Liquid Insect Killing Soap, Bio Root, and miscellaneous bulk fertilizer.
The hazardous materials clean-up mitigation cost was estimated at $200,000 per private site, or about $240 million. But “another expert working with the US Forest Service believes costs could be as much as $2 billion to clean up all of the sites following USFS protocols,” according to the study.
The local California Department of Fish and Wildlife official responded to the study by commenting, “We are aware of the seriousness of your problem but I don’t know who is going to help to come in and clean it up.”
Calaveras County legalized medical marijuana cultivation by passing Measure C in 2015 after a wildfire destroyed 500 homes. The AP reported that the county estimated that it would receive 250 applications. But it received 770 and approved 200. With marijuana growers paying $2 per square foot to grow outdoors and $5 per square foot to grow indoors, law enforcement will receive over $11 million a year to fight illegal cultivation.
Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio told the Associated Press that he has busted numerous illegal marijuana farms this year and destroyed about 30,000 plants, worth about $90 million. DiBasillio said he could bust 1,000 more farms if he had the manpower.
With the 2016 voter passage of Proposition 64 legalizing recreational marijuana cannabis statewide in 2018, Calaveras County residents expect an even bigger boom in illegal cannabis cultivation.
Calaveras County voters booted four of the five supervisors who voted to legalize marijuana cultivation in January. The new board majority has promised to repeal legalization and institute a strict cultivation ban. But a formal vote has been delayed several times due to licensed cultivators with deep pockets threatening to sue the County.