Special report: The economics of pot | TheUnion.com

Special report: The economics of pot

California’s long-held reputation as the nation’s salad bowl – growing and exporting everything from lettuce to tomatoes and prize wine – isn’t going anywhere.

The state produces nearly half of the fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed in the U.S., just a part of its $36.2 billion annual agriculture industry, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The Golden State is by some accounts also the nation’s marijuana bowl. Not included in the state’s agriculture figures is an account of its approximately $14 billion marijuana industry, which the state’s Attorney General office estimates produces more than 8.6 million pounds of marijuana, outstripping the estimated million pounds of marijuana Californians smoke annually.

Locally, business owners know – and have known for a long time, they say – that much of the annual increase of cash transactions in the early to mid-fall can be traced to the local marijuana harvest.

“There’s been times over the years where I’ve had to run home to raid my personal wine cellar to satisfy people’s desires in the fall,” said Greg Cook, who owns Friar Tuck’s restaurant in Nevada City. “It’s a known fact around here that there’s a little more cash right around the harvest. You see people coming in who you don’t normally see coming in and spending cash.”

To be fair, fall is also a somewhat popular time for childless travelers to visit the area, Cook added.

Another Nevada City business owner, who preferred to remain anonymous so as to not jeopardize his clientele, is thankful for all his customers – no matter how they make their money.

“The truth of it is, they’re the only business we’ve got right now,” the man said of his marijuana-generated revenues.

The Nevada County Economic Resource Council doesn’t keep statistics on the county’s marijuana industry, said President Gil Mathew.

“We do know that it’s an important economic factor,” Mathew said.

And it’s likely to grow.

Agents from the Nevada County Sheriff’s Narcotics Task Force have pulled nearly 75,000 plants out of the ground so far this year, task force leader Sgt. Bill Smethers said.

That “more than in any year in history” and far surpassing the next highest year, 2007, when officers eradicated close to 50,000 plants, Smethers added.

To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail kmagin@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.

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