SALINAS, Calif. — This vast and fertile valley is often called the salad bowl of the nation for the countless heads of lettuce growing across its floor. Now California’s marijuana industry is laying claim to a new slogan for the valley: America’s marijuana bucket.
After years of marijuana being cultivated in small plots out of sight from the authorities, California cannabis is going industrial.
Over the past year, dilapidated greenhouses in the Salinas Valley, which were built for cut flower businesses, have been bought up by dozens of California cannabis entrepreneurs, who are growing pot among the fields of spinach, strawberries and wine grapes.
Harborside and other farms like it are a sign of a new chapter for America’s cannabis industry, in which marijuana is grown openly, like any other crop. Despite the federal ban on marijuana, leaders of the industry are taking a Manifest Destiny view, believing it is only a matter of time for pot to become as widely accepted as alcohol across the country.
California, with its ideal climate and vast market, is at the vanguard of the movement to normalize the drug and produce it cheaply and in abundance.
“California is destined to do with cannabis what we’ve done with every other fruit and vegetable,” Mr. DeAngelo said. “And that’s take half of the national market.”
The move to mass-scale farming is occurring just as some members of the Trump administration are advocating a revival of the war on drugs, including marijuana, which is now legal in some form or another in about 30 states. The federal ban precludes growers of California cannabis from legally shipping out of state, although tons of it seeps out anyway.
Terry Garrett, a cannabis analyst based in California, estimates that American consumers spend at least $50 billion a year on marijuana. By contrast, legal marijuana sales total around $7 billion, according to data compiled by BDS Analytics, a company that specializes in data on the cannabis market.
American cannabis laws and politics are starkly contradictory: Weed growers here, in Colorado and in the other states where marijuana cultivation is legal are regulated and taxed. But Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, recently compared pot to heroin. He and others in the Trump administration have threatened a crackdown.
Greater enforcement of the federal ban does not appear to be imminent. Russ Baer, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said “nothing has changed in terms of our enforcement approach.”