A recent article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel brought to light the way in which marijuana is changing the Salinas Valley.

Mike Hackett of Monterey Cannabis Co. has a new moniker for the Salinas Valley; “The Salinas Valley is the Silicon Valley of agriculture. We have the finest grow techniques and plant scientists and fertilizing techniques of any place in the world.” Hackett is growing cannabis where he once cultivated chrysanthemums, and plenty more are coming to the area hoping to follow suit.

At one time Salinas Valley was the heart of the nation’s flower-growing business, but opportunities dried up and landscape was covered by collapsing wood-and-plastic greenhouses. But thanks to passage of Last November’s legalization of recreational marijuana in California, “ganjapreneurs” are snapping up these forgotten farms and erecting luxury greenhouses to grow weed in; gleaming high-tech European structures guarded by gates, barbed wire and cameras.

The rush to buy is because fewer than a dozen farms are still growing flowers, and those properties are being snatched up fast. Though they’ll have to wait until Jan. 1, 2008, you can’t erect a new greenhouse on open lands; this makes these properties highly sought after. 65 ventures have applied for local cultivation permits in Monterey County.

This clamor to be part of the next “green rush” is revitalizing the economy in this area. The sudden increase in property prices is offering financial security for struggling farmers. One farm, worth $1.25 million two years ago, just sold for $5.1 million,and rents have risen from 5-10 cents to $1 per square foot according to Chuck Allen, an agricultural land broker with Keller Williams Realty in Watsonville.

Allen explains the rush for Watsonville property; “It’s a God-given microclimate — not too hot, not too cold, with breezes in the afternoon.”

Jeff Brothers of Harborside Farms concurs, “It’s the Goldilocks Zone. … It’s ideal for cut flowers, and it’s ideal for cannabis.” Brothers has said Harborside will invest $30 million in six greenhouses to supply its large and growing marijuana dispensaries in San Jose, Oakland, and soon San Leandro.

Currently, local contractors are booked, with a two- to three-month waiting list for greenhouse construction.

Though this sounds like a rags to riches story, critics warn that the cannabis boom will spike costs even higher for local flower growers who managed to survive the flood of imported flowers from Latin America, it could invite crime, and the new growers coming to the area; typically young, white and educated — are changing the traditional and culturally conservative community which is now home to aging Japanese and Filipinos.

There’s also the chance of market saturation. Skeptics warn that these ambitious ganjapreneurs could leave just as quickly as they’ve come. For example, in Colorado, the increasing supply of legal marijuana has caused prices to plunge, and now only the most efficient are still succeeding.

But many longtime valley residents searching for change, and they’re holding out hope it will last. Aaron Johnson, a local attorney and Salinas native had this to say, “I think this is the best opportunity to come into the Salinas Valley since the days of the boxcars that cooled vegetables with ice.”