A man in a sun hat threatened to have me arrested on Monday. Now I take men in sun hats extremely seriously, so this was no laughing matter. However, because my column has become a forum for discussing alternative means that UC Davis could generate revenue in a moment of need, my encounter with the ornery man in the sun hat led me to an idea, one that I expect many will meet with skepticism.
My friends and I were on the way back from our weekly visit to El Paisano Taco Truck and we were discussing how diverse the learning on our campus really is and how little of it we can actually acquire in the short four (or five) years we spend here. We choose to specialize, and as a result, there are entire departments and programs that I am still woefully ignorant of. In this vein, we resolved to visit the greenhouses near Tthe Colleges at La Rue to enjoy the first beautiful day of spring quarter and learn about a subject we were all unfamiliar with. It was nice to know that I can visit freely such a well-established botanical enterprise simply by virtue of my paying tuition here.
It was as I was formulating this rosy (no pun intended) ideal of our experience at the greenhouses when the man in the sun hat threatened to have us arrested and escorted from the property. Alright, one of us may have opened a door that we shouldn’t have, but this one indiscretion aside, I felt we had as much right to be there as any tuition-paying student. As we drove away I ranted illogically about what a jerkoff this guy was and that didn’t we have some basic right to check out our campus too?
“You know,” I finally said feverishly, “if the plant sciences department dedicated even one greenhouse to growing marijuana, they could pay for their entire department.” Talk about sustainability.
In the moment I was just being petty, trying to belittle the obviously meticulous and important research we’d disturbed. But in the days since, I’ve given the idea credence as a means of actually generating revenue. What if UC Davis became the single largest contributor to medical marijuana dispensaries in Northern California? This is what I dug up (no pun intended):
First and most importantly – and this will probably serve as a preface to many of my columns – we have a financial shortfall to fill. As our state subsidies continue to dwindle and the university becomes increasingly privatized, we’re in danger of shutting departments down. We have to start generating revenue in areas we haven’t before.
Next, cultivation of marijuana is already legal in California if done within certain parameters. It requires a doctor’s prescription and the cooperation of a licensed dispensary (of which there is no shortage in Northern California). This is the most important step. It ensures that your crop becomes medicine, not “weed,” a cultural distinction that has become important in California. It would be no different than commercial production of a prescription medication like Vicodin, which is perfectly legal only when prescribed. This step is essential because distribution of a Schedule I narcotic to anyone other than a medical dispensary is a felony, and our university cannot afford to pay a lawyer.
Now here is some very primitive math from a source who has chosen to remain unnamed. He estimates that if a greenhouse was 10’x50′ you could fit roughly 200 plants inside. He claims that if one greenhouse this size was dedicated to producing marijuana in this manner, the yield would be 150 lbs a year.
According to Harborside Health Center’s website – a dispensary in Oakland that is considered the model for all other dispensaries, offering a range of patient services including acupuncture, yoga, and wellness classes – it offers its vendors somewhere between $3,000 to $-3,800 for one pound of their product. Paired with my source’s figure, just one 10’x50′ greenhouse could bring in an additional $150,000 a year. There are over 200 greenhouses on our campus, some of which are state of the art.
Obviously there are numerous reasons the university hasn’t done this. One of the biggest is that it might compromise our federal funding, much of which comes from program-specific grants that would likely be unaffected. However, I argue that our allegiance to the whims of the federal government should be directly proportional to the amount of funding we receive from it. If we receive less, we should become freer to find alternative means of revenue, even ones that pledge allegiance to California state law instead of federal law. We can utilize the unique political position California has created and become the leader in an emerging field while earning the revenue necessary to sustain it and other programs in danger of failing.
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