Stoners just may find the green lining in California's record drought. Scientists believe the dry conditions and global warming is likely boosting the potency of pot crops.
When plants are stressed, which is the case during a drought, they tend to express more of their "medicinal" and psychoactive properties, say experts.
"Something we learned in the garden is that the more stress a plant gets the more medicinal and less edible it becomes," retired USDA ethno-botanist James Dukes tells The Daily Climate. Stress tends to convert proteins, carbohydrates and fats into secondary metabolites that protect the plant.
Marijuana doesn't produce psychotropic compounds such as THC just so people can smoke it, explained Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist with the US Department of Agriculture. It's supposed to be a pest repellent. "Plants aren't mobile, they can't get up and move around," notes Ziska, "so they have to produce these chemicals to fight off pests and disease" — particularly in times of stress.
Research also shows that as marijuana plants are raised outdoors they'll likely grow stronger and adapt to the changing environment to require less water, according to Ziska.
Warmer temperatures will likely open up more areas conducive to marijuana growing in higher elevations so pot supplies will probably increase.
The bad news is that predicted increasing marijuana grows will stress the environment and draw even more water from a struggling system.
Pot production in California's "Emerald Triangle" — the northern marijuana growing counties of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity — doubled from 2009 to 2012, according to a study last year by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The marijuana market is getting crowded. As states, particularly Colorado, California and Washington, relax marijuana prohibitions, larger producers are rushing in, sometimes spilling onto public lands without regard for environmental safety. Pot growers are no longer just local hippies but are increasingly armed traffickers, some of them with links to Mexican drug cartels.