A Bumper Year for Pot 

Despite the fourth year of drought, farmers and industry sources say 2015 produced a crop of high-quality bud.

The storm on November 2 signaled the official end to the 2015 cannabis growing season. And judging by industry and farmers' reports, California likely harvested a bumper crop of great bud this year — despite the fourth year of drought. "It's been stellar," said Casey O'Neill with Happy Day Farms in Garberville.

"So far, it's looking pretty kick-ass," said Kevin Jodrey organizer of the cannabis competition called The Golden Tarp awards.

Farmers report that this year's long, hot, and sunny summer was unblemished by the mold-inducing moisture of 2014. The heat also made plants flower and finish as much as thirty days early this year, said O'Neil. "That's significantly earlier than we've ever been out of the ground."

Americans consume an estimated 2,500-5,000 metric tons of pot per year, surveys show. About two-thirds of America's stash is bulk marijuana grown in Mexico. California is the leading domestic producer of both outdoor and indoor-grown bud. Farmers plant cannabis in the spring and the weeds can grow up to fifteen feet in height during the months leading up to fall harvest, when they yield several pounds of dried bud. Indoor gardens, of course, run year-round.

Farmers in the nation's cultivation epicenters of Humboldt and Mendocino counties reported huge, healthy grows this year, combined with increased wholesale demand and prices. Prices for high-quality outdoor are at or above last year's — roughly $1,500 to $1,8000 per pound.

For the first time in recent memory, farmers are also reporting pre-sales of their crops — meaning, the product was sold before drying and trimming were complete. "I haven't seen that in years," said one veteran cultivator.

Farmers suspect that wholesalers read the headlines about drought and fires this year and were determined to buy up supplies. Fires reportedly torched thousands of gardens from Washington state to Lake County, California this year. Washington's biggest provider, CannaSol, lost an entire outdoor crop of legal weed to fire this season. The massive Lake County inferno of 2015 likely claimed the state's oldest medical marijuana garden, according to longtime cannabis activist Dennis Peron of San Francisco.

Also, demand for marijuana across the United States appears to be rising, as cannabis continues to shed its social stigma. Pot is now legal in four states, plus the nation's capital, and it's legal medically in 23 states. Survey data released on October 22 showed that cannabis use among American adults more than doubled in the past decade, rising from 4.1 percent in 2002 to 9.5 percent in 2013.

And the big new surge in cannabis extracts, commonly called "hash," is also propping up prices. Trimmings once destined for mulch now command hundreds of dollars per pound. "[Hash-makers are] saying, 'If it's got sugar on it, we want it'," said cultivator Swami Chaitanya from Swami Select Farms, referring to the plant's white, psychoactive resin.

The year 2015 was also a banner one for greenwashing the war on drugs. Pot farmers were pilloried in the press for water use, even though cannabis comprises a negligible fraction of water used by California agriculture.

However, cultivators' outsized impacts on remote, stressed watersheds is one reason why 2015 will go down as likely the last unregulated medical cannabis harvest in the state's history. Many farmers report saving every penny in profit this year to bring their old logging roads, creek bridges, and water storage tanks and ponds up to code, as well as to obtain new state licenses available in the next two years.

The drought, meanwhile, brought more pests and wildlife to farms this year, but crops stayed hydrated through a combination of winter rain captured in tanks and ponds, drip irrigation, screens, and pruning. Like wine, cannabis' drought-year yields can be lower but of higher-quality. And the dryness kept away pot's arch nemesis — mold — which can claim 30 percent of a harvest. Up near Eureka this October, hands at True Humboldt farms were grinning in the sun. Seasonal mist, fog, and rain usually results in mold on the prized tops of their pot crops, but not in 2015.

Down in the cities, consumers can expect epic deals on fabulous sungrown cuts of Gorilla Glue #4, as well as Kushes, Diesels, and a hybrid called Ogre — which took the Emerald Cup in 2014.

"You have some really neat twists on the fuel OGs, the Fires, the Ghosts — all crossed with people's secret sauces," said Jodrey. "Also, the Black Lime strain from Aficionado with that loud lime [aroma]."

Oakland's Harborside Health Center and other East Bay dispensaries have begun running 'sungrown' deals, such as $35 eighth-ounces of Jack Herer and Sour Diesel.

And The Emerald Cup is gearing up for its return to Santa Rosa on December 12 and 13. The nation's oldest, biggest outdoor organic medical cannabis competition draws about 10,000 attendees, and has added Beats Antique to its entertainment lineup this year. The contest — which will include several hundred entries — opened to gardeners on November 2.

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