So this story about Needles, a struggling desert town that was name-checked in “The Grapes of Wrath,” caught my eye. The community is now looking at the marijuana industry as a kind of economic savior — but the town already faces plenty of competition. I asked our reporter Nathaniel Popper about the possibilities of pot.
At some point in the distant future, we will probably test the limits of how many towns and counties can cash in on the marijuana boom, but it is safe to say for now that point is a long way off.
One factor that has been limiting the growth of the industry so far is that federal laws make it illegal to transport the plant across state lines, even to other places where it’s legal. If it becomes legal to transport joints and vape pens across state lines, it’s easy to imagine California becoming the pot basket of the country, with all the jobs that entails. On the other hand, as commercial operations spring up, the price of pot is falling fast, challenging a lot of the early players.
I figured this would make it hard to compete with places like Santa Barbara County, where pot producers are allowed to grow outside. But even though growing marijuana indoors is more expensive on a day-to-day basis, it can be much more efficient because the lights can stay on all night, with growing continuing through the year. Indoor facilities can also make it easier to turn out a uniform product.
All that means that there is room in the industry for towns that have cheap land and electricity, alongside the areas that have plentiful farmland.
Needles is in the desert, which has become a kind of Instagrammer’s paradise. Is it trying to attract tourists, too?