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Cannabis and the California Water Crisis

Cannabis and the California Water Crisis

As California grapples with historic drought, cannabis cultivation is getting a bad rap. But is our beloved plant really a contributing factor to the state’s water crisis?


First, a little context. California produces more agricultural commodities than any state in the nation. America gets over one-third of its vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts from sunny California. In fact, thanks to being situated in one of only five regions on Earth that have the ideal Mediterranean growing climate, the Golden State is the 5th-largest supplier of food in the entire world. 


From oranges to grapes to dairy, California devotes millions of acres to food production. According to a revealing article by leading cannabis attorney Joe Rogoway, of these, 895,000 acres are devoted to grapes. To put that in perspective, that’s larger than Yosemite National Park. Another 1,260,000 acres go toward almond production – almost as much land as all of California’s state parks combined. And 1,830,000 acres are devoted to alfalfa and irrigated pasture for the meat and dairy industry – totaling roughly 60 times the size of San Francisco.


Cannabis, on the other hand? If all the permitted pot farms grow the maximum amount, then legal cannabis cultivation accounts for a mere 2,078 acres in the entire state. That’s less than half the size of Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. And it’s only 0.1 percent of the land devoted to alfalfa and irrigated pasture. 


Cannabis and the California water crisis


In terms of how much water cannabis uses compared to other agricultural products, the numbers are similarly surprising. Grapes use 1,700,500 acre feet of water, almonds use 4,914,000 acre feet, and alfalfa and irrigated pasture consume a whopping 8,403,000. For context, the city of Los Angeles services its entire population of almost 4 million with just 521,915 acre feet of water.


Cannabis, meanwhile? Licensed cannabis cultivation maxes out at just 2,909 acre feet of water. That’s 0.03 percent of what alfalfa and irrigated pastures utilize. And when you factor in the fiscal benefits of cannabis cultivation, the disparity is even more drastic. Despite using 0.1 percent of the land and 0.03 percent of the water that alfalfa and livestock-related agriculture uses, legal cannabis still brings in $3.8 billion in tax revenue for the state compared with $10.4 billion from livestock-related products.


To be fair, not all cannabis cultivation in California is legal, and it’s notoriously difficult to assess just how much land and resources go toward illegal cultivation. But one thing is clear: compared to the state’s overall water usage, cannabis is not a large contributor to the ongoing drought crisis, requiring far fewer resources while creating far greater value. 
So, next time you hear someone scapegoat cannabis over California’s historic drought, tell them with all due respect to put that in their bong and smoke it.

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