Moral and legal concerns aside, consider the potential economic disruption that federal legalization of marijuana could create. It’s a potential multi-billion dollar industry – in Colorado alone, CNN reported recently that the state collected $184 million in tax revenue after the first 18 months after the state granted recreational use.
There’s some speculation that widespread federal legalization of marijuana is very possible within the next decade. Some companies are betting on that assumption, building infrastructure to avoid getting caught flat-footed if and when legalization occurs.
“The industry is not ready from an infrastructural standpoint if recreational marijuana use becomes widely legal,” says Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech. “There’s not currently a backbone to meet that demand.”
Peterson’s company hopes it will be one of several that can capitalize on the potential demand. The trick – figuring out a way to run a profitable business until that time. Terra Tech has solved that problem for the time being by creating its Edible Garden brand and contracting with local farmers who grow, pack and ship herbs and leafy greens to area supermarkets and restaurants.
A few simple modifications to their greenhouses, and these farmers can switch out their crops post-legalization. Peterson says he wants to work with commercial farmers, especially those who have experience growing “fussy” crops that need a lot of care and attention to thrive.
“We need people with real commercial agriculture experience,” he says.
Another thing that must change is the industry’s half-baked approach to cultivating marijuana, Peterson adds. For example, far too much of the current crop is grown indoors using a high carbon footprint, high-cost artificial lighting. Plus, there are no certifications, standard operating procedures or proper pesticide tracking.
Mold and other toxins are another potential concern being addressed. California startup TRiQ has a patent out on a technology to kill specific molds dangerous to immune-deficient patients, for example. Pharmaceutical company RXNB, meantime, has 32 patents pending on various marijuana-related technologies.
Peterson says the breeding side of business is also as active as it has ever been, including new strains that strip out most of the THC (the psychoactive part of the plant) but leaving the rest, which would give medical patients an option to use the drug as a pain reliever without getting high.
For now, Peterson and Terra Tech will stick to growing herbs, leafy greens and medical marijuana where it is already legal. If recreational use becomes legal, Peterson says he will be ready.
“The people with longstanding ag experience will be best equipped to handle these changes,” he says.