Will small cannabis farmers survive?

October 11, 2017
Jordan Stanley and others prune hemp plants growing on their family's farm outside Wray, Colo., July 31, 2014. (Matthew Staver/The New York Times)

Come 2018, California’s legal cannabis farmers will face a new era of state regulations, licensing, and taxes. Many of the estimated 40,000 farms in the state could go out of business, said cannabis cultivator attorney Heather Burke, in a recent Facebook.Live video with GreenState.

California legalized cannabis in November, and is set to dual-regulate its 21 year-old medical pot market and its new recreational market over the next 36 months. Adults 21 and over could begin walking into legal stores in select cities by January.

Burke, interviewed in the video by San Francisco Chronicle Cannabis Editor David Downs, said one of the biggest threats to small farmers is overproduction. If supply outpaces demand in California, the price of weed will decline, as it has in Washington and Colorado. Lower prices would be good for cannabis consumers, but not farmers.

Farmers will need to be “cognizant” of overproduction, “careful” about saving money, and “start thinking in long-term projections,” said Burke.

Consumers should also be mindful about spending, if they want to support small cannabis farms. Burke recommended consumers ask for “small batch” craft cannabis at dispensaries.

“That’s what we do now with wine,” she said,

Small farmers are mostly at the mercy of state regulations, said Downs, which could support the growth of small businesses, like the law does for craft beer and small wineries, or discourage small businesses, as it does with tobacco.

For the best chance of survival in a new economy, Burke suggested farmers work year-round (rather than taking winter months off), get involved with policy decisions, and stay informed.

“Is it going to be easy?” she said. “No...It will take a fight.”

Watch the full interview above or on our Facebook page. -- Jackie Flynn