A tiny California desert town is making a drastic change to reverse its downward spiral and embrace an enlightened future. For 24 years, Adelanto tried unsuccessfully to sustain its economy through prisons, but now it will be hosting a very different kind of business—cannabis cultivation.
The town became only the second city in California to permit commercial cultivation of medical cannabis, after a year of heated debate in the City Council. The persistence of John “Bug” Woodard, Jr. paid off in a 4-1 vote on Nov. 23 to allow cultivation.
“I had nothing to lose,” said Woodard. “The city could not get in any worse shape than it was. It was broke.”
Brooke Edwards Staggs of The Orange County Register describes Adelanto’s declining prison economy and the land rush that is now taking place after their decision to go to pot.
Its first prison was built in 1991, as the city braced itself for the closure of nearby George Air Force Base.
That didn’t stop Adelanto’s long slide into high unemployment and depressed property values. More than a third of the city’s nearly 33,000 residents now live below the poverty line. So it kept welcoming more prisons, banking on the promise of jobs and steady revenue in the form of an annual bed tax.
The town sold one of its four prisons to a private firm in 2010 for $28 million, and that cash is about to run out. Solar energy developers also had an interest in Adelanto, but only four projects have been constructed, producing a handful of jobs.
Now, a new kind of developer is flocking to the town.
Ky-Mani Marley, one of Bob Marley’s sons, has already signed on to license a strain of cannabis that will be grown there, according to Freddy Sayegh, the attorney on the project. Tommy Chong has also shown interest. So has B-Real of Cypress Hill fame, plus other high-profile musicians and professional athletes whose names are being kept under wraps.
One commercial real estate firm says they went from one call a week to five calls a day about purchasing land in Adelanto. Real estate prices have skyrocketed as “investors, cultivators, doctors, architects and record executives” fly across the country to see about getting in on the budding industry.
Twenty-seven companies have been permitted to set up grow operations in Adelanto, with two more pending. The first crop is expected to be produced by summer, and when it reaches full capacity, the town will be producing about 50,000 pounds of cannabis six times a year for the medical industry.
Since California approved medical cannabis use in 1996, it has finally gotten around to creating a licensing program for cannabis businesses under the Medical Marijuana Regulations and Safety Act. The state is expected to legalize recreational use this November, which will greatly increase demand for legitimate operations.
The trend of cities allowing commercial-scale cannabis cultivation is a relief for those concerned about the environmental impact of illegal grow operations. Last year we reported how many growers are carelessly polluting aquatic ecosystems with rat poison and other toxic chemicals, while drying up already stressed streams.
As more towns and cities in California permit large-scale cannabis cultivation, demand will shift to these responsible growers, which should begin to reduce the pressure on the state’s fragile aquatic ecosystems.
Adelanto, which means “progress” in Spanish, will indeed prove to be a model of progress as it transitions from a depressing economy of prisons to one that actually helps human and environmental health.
“Tomorrow, they’ll be on the correct side of history and be recognized as a city that actually embraced safety and embraced something that heals people,” said Randall Longwith, an attorney representing investors.
Not only will cannabis businesses be producing exclusive strains for distribution, but Adelanto will also serve as a hub of medical research for ailments such as pediatric epilepsy, brain tumors, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Cannabis is showing great promise in all of these areas.
As a bonus, the medical cannabis research company Ecologies Laboratories will be pushing out a merchant of death. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which makes the Predator drone, will have to give up its storage facility in Adelanto as the landlord has decided to lease it to Ecologies Laboratories instead.
Adelanto joins another California city, Desert Hot Springs, to become a new kind of western pioneer. It will save its economy by making millions in tax revenue and securing hundreds of jobs, and, more importantly, is embracing a future where cannabis will prove to be a medical wonder.
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