Pot glut

As the state and feds loosen their grip, California’s marijuana supply has grown to new heights

The weight is good, but what about the quality?

The weight is good, but what about the quality?

Skip Jones has been an underground cannabis cultivator for 26 years; for obvious reasons, he writes under a pseudonym.

Marijuana is worth money, and in case you haven’t noticed, there seems to be an overabundance of cannabis from this year’s outdoor harvest. In fact, supply is outstripping demand in this multibillion-dollar market, and the price on the street is dropping like a stone.

We’re certainly not seeing the prices enjoyed before the Drug Enforcement Administration initiated the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting program in 1983, when a 1-ounce “lid” sold for $10. However, the long-standard street price of $50 for one-eighth of an ounce has fallen to as low as $35 in recent months. Steep discounts are available for those who buy larger amounts.

What’s behind this apparently dramatic increase in the supply of marijuana? Two things. Since Proposition 215 passed in 1996, the number of people cultivating their own stash has increased every year. Precise numbers are notoriously hard to come by, but according to the DEA, the number of plants seized by CAMP per year from 1996 to 2006 increased sixteenfold, from 94,221 plants to 1,675,681 plants. One marijuana study estimates the value of last year’s crop at $14 billion in California alone.

The second factor leading to the state’s present pot glut was the Obama administration’s announcement last year that the DEA would no longer conduct raids on growers, collectives and patients operating within their state’s medical-marijuana statute. As soon as that statement hit the airwaves, people rushed to obtain medical-marijuana recommendations and lined up at the hydroponics stores in hopes of cashing in on the movement, especially in light of the economic downturn and the real-estate market collapse.

But now, the folks who’ve rushed in to capitalize on the new leniency have a conundrum. Patients who thought they’d grow enough for themselves and sell the rest, on the street or to a collective, have suddenly discovered there’s too much pot. Many outdoor growers are just sitting on their crops, which grow older and staler by the minute. The newbies didn’t consider the time it took their old dealer to build his or her customer base, or the rigors of competing in a business that remains both inside and outside the law.

That said, how can a newbie cash in?

This was an issue that an acquaintance of mine tried to solve by going out of California to another medical-marijuana state. Unfortunately, he was told his outdoor weed was “too good” and wasn’t grown locally, so they would not be able to purchase it from him. Cashing in on something you have no market for is a crapshoot at best.

In contrast to the street, the cost of pot at medical-marijuana collectives, where both the bud and the prices are somewhat stickier, has remained relatively unchanged, and ranges from $50 to $65 per eighth of an ounce for what is mostly weed grown indoors. The cost of cultivating indoors has not changed, and most good indoor pot is worth what reasonable growers are charging for it.

But what strikes me in the gut is when I walk into a so-called “medical dispensary” and they are charging indoor prices for outdoor medicine, which is not as potent and wasn’t raised in a sterile environment. I am sure a lot of other patients have been shocked as well. It’s the inevitable result of too many new growers and too many new collectives all coming online at the same time.

How does the new medical-marijuana patient determine indoor from outdoor? First, in general, indoor weed is much brighter green in color. Outdoor weed generally has more leaf matter, and the bud stalks are more rugged. Lastly, when in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask the person behind the counter.

Ultimately, I believe the state needs to step in to regulate the labeling of “medicinal” and “recreational” marijuana. Patients and caregivers need a centralized quality-control center that can test marijuana for levels of medicinal value. Set an acceptable minimum level, and you’d weed out the number of nonmedical growers that infest California under the guise of the law.

There is no denying that marijuana has been demonized by Western culture, and long will be the days before pot is traded openly and accepted as medicine, not a gateway to harder illicit substances. When the people in this country who haven’t opened up their minds realize that pot is safer than alcohol and many prescription and over-the-counter medications, we’re going to have a bona fide bonanza on our hands. Never mind the textiles …