Thursday, March 23, 2023

Exactly How Much Of A Boost Is Marijuana Giving Steinbeck Country

For decades, the Salinas Valley, just south of the San Francisco Bay Area, was a known for its flower business. But there is a new cash crop in the lush valley that is bringing in new revenues and driving up farm prices: Cannabis.

“The Salinas Valley is the Silicon Valley of agriculture,” Mike Hackett of Monterey Cannabis Co., told the Bay Area News Group. “We have the finest grow techniques and plant scientists and fertilizing techniques of any place in the world,” said Hackett, who is now planting cannabis where he once grew chrysanthemums.

The report predicts that the cannabis industry could bring in up to $80 million a year in new tax revenues to Monterey County’s $1.3 billion annual budget. Not too shabby for a region that was struggling not too long ago.

According to the report:

Back in the 1950s through the 1980s when the flower business was blooming, there were about 130 working greenhouses here, supplying fresh flowers across the U.S.

But the farms fell victim to globalization and, ironically, the nation’s drug wars, pushing the local unemployment rate above 15 percent in the 1990s. To reduce the flow of cocaine into this country by encouraging farmers in Colombia to grow food instead of coca, the United States in the early 1990s allowed imported flowers to enter duty-free. Now, 80 percent of all cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from South America.

The new green rush is now giving the region — popularized by John Steinbeck’s classic “The Grapes of Wrath” — an economic boost.

The cannabis industry is giving the region much-needed employment. Cannabis businesses are able to pay higher hourly wages than other farmers — and the work is more regular than the seasonal picking customary in the area.

And it’s not just the farm workers getting a financial boost. Construction companies are busy retrofitting greenhouse operations. And real estate agents are busier than ever.

Rents have surged from 5-10 cents to $1 per square foot, Chuck Allen, an agricultural land broker told the Bay Area News Group. According to Allen, he has seen more than 20 major properties have worth roughly $100 million change hands.

“I think this is the best opportunity to come into the Salinas Valley since the days of the boxcars that cooled vegetables with ice,” said Aaron Johnson, a local attorney and Salinas native.

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