While the coronavirus pandemic has caused the collapse of retail businesses across the country, there is one thing people have been buying more of during months of lockdown: marijuana.
The legal cannabis industry set sales records across the U.S. and Canada over the past six months, according to cannabis analytics firm New Frontier Data, which partially attributed the market’s growth to the COVID-19 outbreak.
That revenue stream has caught the eye of cash-strapped local and state officials, but the surge in interest in cannabis has growers and land experts worried about competition for the land needed to grow the plant.
In recent years, leasable farmland has been harder to come by “because cannabis farmers could pay so much more,” said Maud Powell, an Associate Professor in the Small Farms Program at Oregon State University.
“It’s like a land grab … the green rush, they call it,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Top officials in at least three U.S. states have discussed the potential for the legalization of cannabis to create new revenue streams, said Erik Altieri, executive director of advocacy group NORML.
In California, more than two dozen jurisdictions will have cannabis-related initiatives on the ballot when voters go to polls in November, says Jacqueline McGowan, founder of Green Street Consulting, which focuses on the cannabis industry.
McGowan links those initiatives to budget issues brought on by the pandemic, and sees more jurisdictions making similar moves in the near future.
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