'TakePart Live: TPL Disrupt' Series: Marijuana's Changing Landscape

We head into California's Central Valley where farmers have figured out how to grow fields of pot out in the open.
Nov 6, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Yoonj Kim is an independent journalist and producer in Los Angeles.

The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of cannabis, with California growing approximately three-quarters of America’s pot crop, mostly on large gardens hidden in the Sierras and tended by armed traffickers. But for the past two years in northern California, some farmers have figured out how to grow fields of marijuana in open farmland, right under the nose of anyone driving by.

TakePart Live’s Jacob Soboroff joined the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department to investigate just how this works. We saw firsthand that these massive marijuana farms are possible due to California’s medical marijuana laws, with individuals in huge extended families of migrant workers each getting a recommendation to legally intake marijuana for medical reasons. This means that each individual can legally grow ninety-nine plants per year, and the ones in Fresno County are some of the world’s largest, averaging 3.3 pounds of bud per plant.

However, if one does the calculations, it’s obvious that ninety-nine plants per year would yield too much marijuana for an individual to ingest. According to the Sheriff’s Department’s calculations, this means that the person would have to smoke one dose—aka a joint—every two minutes to consume all of the bud from his or her ninety-nine plants.

MORE: Watch More from "TakePart Live: TPL Disrupt"

The findings lead the Sheriff’s Department to conclude that the growers must be selling their copious amounts of weed, and they have tracked truckloads of bud leaving Fresno County to places as far as the East Coast, where the weed wholesales for up to $4,000 per pound. They also bust fields before the plants are harvested, as Jacob and the team saw when we headed up there.

Most of the time, though, the Sheriff’s Department can only keep tabs on the growers until they have enough evidence to bust them for trafficking. Until then, the fields are technically just legal crops belonging to people with medical marijuana recommendations.

"TPL Disrupt" is TakePart Live's original documentary series. This is the first of the weekly features that will combine investigative and participatory docu-journalism.