Cannabis is a plant that can be cultivated just like coffee or corn. But in order to turn seeds into flowering plants, you need the proper amounts of sunlight, nutrients, and water. Sunlight and nutrients do not tend to be a problem. Water can be, especially if it doesn’t rain for a while.
Growing cannabis when it does not rain can definitely be tough. Growers in California, Colorado, and Arizona are experiencing that first hand right now. And believe it or not, the challenges are not limited to outdoor cultivators. Even those running indoor operations face obstacles when there isn’t enough rain to keep local water supplies flowing.
A Summer of Drought
Summer 2022 has not been kind to agricultural operations throughout the Southwest. Farmers of all types are suffering due to a lack of rain. But cannabis growers are especially susceptible because their crops generally don’t qualify for first right protections.
If drought is severe enough to jeopardize a state’s agricultural industry, marijuana growers are usually the first ones told to stop growing. They are the first to be told to stop irrigating.
In California, lawmakers have moved to protect farmers against losses caused by drought. They have even created a program to pay farmers to not grow this summer, thereby freeing up limited water resources for more important things. Such programs are fine as far as government assistance is concerned, but cannabis farmers do not always qualify for financial assistance.
Imports Are off the Table
If the Southwest drought ends up being prolonged, it can have a significant impact on the cannabis industry in the long term. For example, licensed growers who strive to follow the rules might find themselves at a greater disadvantage than they already are while illegal operators dig their own wells and tap into city water lines.
The other thing to remember is that imports are off the table. So maybe Utah isn’t suffering any drought issues and continues to produce at normal capacity. Colorado and Arizona cannot import from the Beehive State despite being direct neighbors.
For the record, Utah marijuana dispensary Beehive Farmacy, says that state growers cannot export even if they wanted to. State law prevents transporting cannabis across state lines for any reason. If growers in Colorado and Arizona cannot produce enough product to meet the demand, customers in those states will go without.
A Potential Silver Lining
There could be a silver lining in all of this, according to a post recently published on Benzinga website. According to that piece, limited research suggests that controlled drought conditions could actually be beneficial to cannabis plants.
Under drought conditions, plants of all types tend to increase production of their secondary metabolites. This is a natural reaction that is key to plant survival when there isn’t enough water. Should cannabis plants produce higher volumes of cannabinoids and terpenes under drought conditions, it is possible that drought could create a more potent plant.
This potential is something that could ideally be studied in a controlled setting. While the Southwest suffers from drought conditions, it might be in the best interests of indoor growers to start testing their own plants by under watering them. They could learn how drought affects cannabis while reducing their water consumption at the same time.
Cannabis plants need water to grow. That much we know. What we do not know is how the cannabis industry in the Southwest will be affected by this summer’s drought conditions. And if the drought continues into next year, what will the industry look like in 2023 and beyond? Time will tell.