The rise of the legitimate state marijuana market in America has been shaped by state politics, federal intransigence and medical trials if not stunning results which are beginning to reshape the idea of modern medicine.
One of the oddest aspects of forward reform however, that showed up all year in the two operational recreational markets of Washington State and Colorado (if not reflected oddly in California as well) is the impact of indoor grows on the overall industry.
Unlike crops of years past, which, as in California, were outdoors, the growth of the indoor market, which got a real forward boost in Colorado, has also begun to shape overall market growth in every state, even as it allows growers (for one) to overcome the most pressing concern they face in production of product before federal reform becomes reality.
Access to water
What this trend towards indoor growing has done, besides remove weather and traditional crop risk from such growers as well as create a seasonless production chain, is also starting to change one of the most challenging aspects of the proposition still facing outdoor competitors.
Namely, that large outdoor growers (at least in the past) tapped into federally controlled water supplies and aquifers.
Indoor growers rely on municipal water systems
The way this has showed up this year has been interesting and has as much to do with the confluence of Mother Nature and politics as anything else. Faced with historical droughts on the West Coast in California and Washington State as well as federal right of access, the federal government has already issued bans this year specific to marijuana outdoor growers, banning the use of such irrigation for marijuana crops. Outdoor growers in both states have had to find other means of irrigation, which usually has meant digging their own wells or even in some cases, trucking in their own water. This issue will certainly not go away soon in any Western state now contemplating reform. That includes Washington State, the new recreational (plus medical) market in Oregon and whatever happens in California, itself gearing up for another vote on recreational in two years. Nevada, now getting ready to push forward with a recreational vote and signatures gathered already to do the same, is an arid, desert state where indoor grow is destined to become the main source of product as the market explodes here.
Indoor grows, which also use less water because of the strains and technology used to do the same, particularly on the corporate production level now in existence in at least Colorado and Washington State, are also more shielded from direct police interdiction because local authorities not only are required to have a warrant, but are increasingly reluctant to raid such establishments because of increased liability in the case of mistaken identity. Grow warehouses, in Denver, for example, look remarkably alike from the exterior, whether registered with the state or not.
There is also a matter of price to consider. Indoor grown marijuana tends to be more expensive all the way through the value chain, in part because of the extra cost of security, site design, technology and the higher training of workers required to harvest and grow such crops. This has also started to create a worker class that is better trained, more highly certified, and in all aspects a strange new hybrid twist to the stereotype of the All American Farmer. It is widely assumed that efficient state markets if not a national wholesale infrastructure will start to work their price magic on a national crop at some point in the future.
Right now, however, a once again rising price for even basic strains has left medical patients, in particular, and in many states, priced out of medical markets meant to keep them out of a cheaper black market.
How such impacts will continue to shape the industry is also very unclear, but the rise of indoor grown crops has clearly added more than one strange twist into a national debate in the United States at least, that will begin to reach its national nadir two years hence.
In the meantime, this subsector of a quickly legitimizing business continues to throw its odd shadows of relief into overall industry development and regulatory reform and in many strange ways invisible to the average outside observer.
by Marguerite Arnold