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California pot growers clashing with vineyards

BUELLTON, Calif. (CNBC) – Pot and wine don’t mix in the field and some farmers in California are now butting heads over the budding industry.

California’s great experiment with legal marijuana is running into unintended consequences, especially in Santa Barbara County where avocado groves butt up against pot growing in old flower greenhouses or near vineyards.

John De Friel with Raw Garden Cannabis said, “We have 80 years of stigma that we need to work against to normalize this industry as another crop.”

John De Friel is building a 44-acre cannabis empire in prime wine country in a county that has handed out more than a third of the state’s total growing permits, surprising some traditional farmers.

Blair Pence with Pence Vineyard and Winery said, “There is like, one two three four projects right there then there’s to more just right over that hill, another one over there.”

Avocado and lemon grower Scott Van Der Kar said, “Follow the money. I mean, that’s the only explanation.”

And here’s the bottom line on money: the local university estimates that the value of these wine grapevines is worth $120 million but cannabis being grown under those white hoops behind me are worth $180 million.”

But two problems have popped up. The first is the odor, which can be strong in places. Some vintners fear it could affect the taste of the grapes, though there is no proof of that.

Cannabis grower Autumn Shelton spent a $100,000 on a deodorizing system to be a good neighbor and blames illegal growers for odor problems.

The second issue: pesticides. Cannabis, by law, cannot have any pesticide residue on it, and growers of other crops are being forced to hand-spray or use less effective means to avoid legal problems if pesticides drift.

Some farmers on both sides are trying to work together to find solutions without lawsuits. Shelton said, “I mean everybody wants everyone to be successful. No one wants to hurt anybody’s business.”

De Friel said, “I actually think in large part the agricultural industry is either indifferent or excited about seeing a new crop come.”

Not everyone’s excited. Pence said, “It’s gonna be a giant legal battle, you know? I guess in the end the lawyers will win. But you know we’re gonna fight it tooth and nail. We’re gonna fight it to the end.”

It’s just the latest sign that high hopes for legal cannabis in California have so far been a bit of a buzz kill.

NBC News

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