(CORRECTION) At some point, the U.S. Department of Agriculture could be due for some high-level talks on a new specialty crop.
With Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational use of marijuana in 2012, and 20 states and the District of Columbia allowing the medical use of marijuana, could there be a time when the leafy green herb is classified as a specialty crop?
Think of the implications: Grower-financed promotions through assessments, standardized grading overseen by marketing orders, university researchers competing for Specialty Crop Block Grant funding. Any testing programs would no doubt break the record for students applying to take part in the “research.”
Although there are 38 “medicinal herbs” (including feverfew, pokeweed, skullcap and witch hazel) identified as specialty crops by the USDA, marijuana (even hemp seed) is not included.
Marijuana — medical or otherwise — is big business. According to a 2006 report based on federal statistics, my home state of Kansas ranked the value of the crop at $64 million.
Regardless of how the crop could/should be regulated in the future, the production of marijuana in California is making business for legitimate specialty crop growers more difficult.
According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, the legalization of medical marijuana and a crackdown on illegal operations has flushed some pot growers from the Sierra Nevada and into the Central Valley.
“We’re sitting in a war zone,” stone fruit grower Dennis Simonian told Wall Street Journal reporter Matt Black. Sheriff’s deputies in 2012 raided a pot farm in rural Fresno on land adjacent to the Simonian family fruit operation.
According to the story, Fresno County sheriff deputies took out about 25,000 marijuana plants from a vegetable farm this summer. Vegetable growers are caught in the middle, according to the article, because marijuana growers in some cases are cutting down vegetable crops and planting their own crops.
According to the Journal, Fresno sheriff deputies have already identified 343 marijuana farms and yanked more than 136,000 plants this year. As this continues, expect marijuana growers to become more aggressive.
There’s a showdown brewing in Hawaii over genetically modified crops, and it could kill a local crop that’s been a clear victory for fruit growers.