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The cannabis frontier continues in California

Authors: Van Butsic*,
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Development, Rural Geography
Keywords: Cannabis
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Cannabis has been produced in Northern California for over 50 years. The era of medical cannabis lead to an increase in the number and size of cannabis farms. In 2018, adult use cannabis became legal in California. Paradoxically, freedom for consumers meant new regulations for producers and required all farmers to obtain permits from local and state governments to produce cannabis. Here, we document how the number and size of cannabis farms in changed in Northern California after legalization and how many of these farms obtained the needed state permits. By hand digitizing cannabis farms from very high resolution (~1 meter) satellite data were were able to construct a database of cannabis farms covering approximately 50% of Humboldt and Mendocino Counties for the years 2012, 2016, and 2018. Over this time, we saw rapid increase in cannabis production. The number of cannabis farms increased, as did the size of the average farm. Therefore, total land under production increased by over 125%. We found that farmers are investing in greenhouses, and that the area of production in greenhouses increased by over 250% during this same time period. Compliance with cannabis production laws was low in 2018, with less than 50% of farms having permits. Overall, our results show that the cannabis frontier in Northern California was still expanding in 2018 and that newly formed regulation did not appear to curtail this expansion.

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