‘I Want To Produce The World’s Best Cannabis’

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Photo Credit: Max Schindler

In the blistering heat of the Coachella desert, armed security guards ensure there are no unwanted visitors at a gated industrial complex.

The smell is a giveaway before you step inside the nondescript buildings.

Photo Credit: The News Articles

With dozens of fans whirring, and under bright lights, Lars Havens shows us thousands of cannabis plants being cultivated by his company, Del-Gro.

Most of the seven-acre (2.8ha) site is still being developed but several rooms are already operational.

Lars has been a nurse, a professional rugby player, mixed martial arts fighter, and a bar manager.

Now he’s hoping to capitalize on the world’s biggest legal marijuana industry.

On 1 January this year, California began licensing local businesses to grow cannabis for sale within the state.

The total economic output from America’s legal cannabis, worth $16bn (£12bn) last year, is forecast to grow 150% to $40bn by 2021, according to BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research.

Last year, Aspen, Colorado, became the first US city to sell more marijuana than alcohol.

‘Most taxed’

“I moved out here to California to put forward a product that connoisseurs are going to be interested in,” says Lars. “I want to produce the world’s best cannabis.”

His product will have to be good, because legal producers will never be able to beat California’s illegal dealers on price.

Photo Credit: Todd Guild

Lars claims cannabis is the “most heavily taxed product” in the whole state, taxed at close to 40% when all the various levies are taken into account, and that this might be unsustainable.

“I think you’ll start to see some deregulation on taxes, because right now they’re almost pricing themselves out of the market.”

California’s new laws also made it illegal to export the drug out of state, raising concerns about overproduction.

This has been a major problem in Oregon, where there’s simply too much cannabis, and farmers have seen prices drop by 50%.

It shows the difficulty and unpredictability of creating a legal market for something which is already available on the black market.

‘Mainstream America’

Three hours west of Coachella, the cannabis retailer MedMen has already opened five stores in and around Los Angeles.

Photo Credit: Jim Wilson

It’s as far from the stereotypical “head shop” as you can imagine, and has clearly been designed to replicate the Apple Store experience.

Teams of staff in matching T-shirts help customers browse product information on tablets, with edible cannabis products, oils, and creams on sale alongside the more recognizable “flower”.

Daniel Yi from MedMen says it’s hard to describe a typical customer: “Who’s a typical chair buyer, or a typical soda buyer? They reflect mainstream America.

“We’re at that point where it is normal to walk into a store like this, which looks like any other store.

“There are some people who were OK with buying cannabis from a corner drug dealer. There are other people who would never have done anything illegal,” he says.

“If you come up with a new app or a new car, you may have to convince people they need this product. With cannabis there’s already $50B consumed in the US alone, and almost 90% of that is in the illegal market,” says Daniel.

“So part of this is bringing those people into a safe legal market where they know where the product is coming from.”

Legalization’s impact

The law change hasn’t led to a dramatic behavioral shift on Californian streets, or in bars and restaurants, mainly because it’s still illegal to consume the drug in public.

Possession of a small amount for personal use has been permitted since November 2016, and Californians have been able to use cannabis for medical reasons for more than 20 years.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Hayward

It’s too early to judge the impact on crime rates, but Colorado and Washington reported a drop in violent crime after legalizing cannabis five years ago.

There is some evidence it has led to a rise in car crashes, and more marijuana-poisoning cases involving young children.

But it has definitely created a new market for entrepreneurs to exploit. The delivery app Eaze recently expanded into Los Angeles, offering a Deliveroo-type service for customers who want marijuana brought to their homes at the tap of a button.

Eaze also produce an annual survey on the state of cannabis consumption. The most recent report claims women are spending more on marijuana products, and that more people are choosing them in place of sleeping pills.

‘More jobs’

“Freeway” Ricky Ross made millions as a cocaine dealer in LA in the 1990s. He was jailed for life but later had his sentence shortened on appeal and was freed in 2009.

He’s now gone straight and insists he feels guilty for his past behavior: “I saw it bring people down. Cocaine is highly addictive; I’ve seen people do $3-4,000 in one night.”

He’s now interested in getting a license to work in the legal cannabis trade, but believes the high costs are prohibitive for many in the black community who have suffered due to illegal drugs in the past.

Photo Credit: Trevor Hughes

“We haven’t been part of the money-making end – we have mostly been on the consumption end and we want to change that. I think the industry could definitely bring jobs back to the community.

“There are so many opportunities where you don’t even have to touch marijuana – marketing, bookkeeping, clean-up, air conditioning, it just don’t stop.”

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