Cannabis - Zabala Farms

Cannabis has been cultivated legally in Monterey County for a number of years but this is the first time that the crop's production numbers have been published.

Cannabis farmers in Monterey County reached sales of roughly $450 million dollars in 2019 out of a total annual crop value of $4.86 billion, according to two new county reports. 

It is the first time that the production value of cannabis has been quantified and the number places cannabis as the number-five crop in Monterey County just behind broccoli, which is at $457 million. 

“That is a very impressive number for a first-year crop,” Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales said in a press conference on June 23. “I don’t think this has ever happened in the history of the world.”

Excluding cannabis, the county’s total agricultural production value reached $4.41 billion in 2019, a 3.5-percent increase over 2018. The top crops remained the same with leaf lettuce leading at $840 million, followed bystrawberries at $733 million and head lettuce at $514 million.

Perhaps the most shocking figure to be released by the ag commissioner’s office was the acreage of cannabis farmed. At 86.6 acres of cultivation, cannabis brought in roughly $5.2 million per acre. The footprint of the crop is minuscule compared to its nearest-ranking crop, broccoli, which required 54,000 acres for revenues of $457 billion. (The production value is the total before accounting for costs like labor, raw materials, taxes and financing.)

The ag commissioner’s office has been publishing annual crop reports since 1929. The addition of the cannabis numbers as a supplement to the regular report was authorized through a state bill sponsored by State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and signed into law last year. Cannabis is reported separately because it is still listed as an illegal substance in federal law. 

Aaron Johnson, a local cannabis attorney and lobbyist, joined a press call with Gonzales and other industry representatives to present the numbers.

“We should celebrate this day,” he said. “We bring a lot to the county in terms of tax revenue and revenue in general.” He also said that the cannabis growing industry creates “thousands” of jobs with year-round employment, unlike other farming sectors that tend to hire seasonally.

Many cannabis growers were hesitant to share their sales figures with the county. “It was not easy to get cannabis growers to come forward with info right off the bat,” Johnson said. “It took a lot of explaining of what the crop report is.”

Johnson and Gonzales anticipate steady growth for cannabis. “We need to be up at the $700 million range, threatening strawberries in the second place in order to be sustainable in the long term,” Johnson said. 

Another big takeaway from the crop report was the sharp and continued increase in organic production, which reached $563 million in 2019, an annual increase of 36 percent. 

Meanwhile, the export of Monterey County crops dropped in 2019 by 17.9 percent. Colby Pereira, the president of Monterey County Farm Bureau, attributed the drop to the “trade war,” referring to trade policies pursued by the Trump administration.

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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