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Investors, stars rush to desert city Adelanto for marijuana growing

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ADELANTO – On a Wednesday night in December, investors from Orange County and Los Angeles descended on a crumbling outpost that, until then, many had only unwittingly driven past on the way to Las Vegas.

The outsiders and residents alike packed Adelanto City Hall, eager to weigh in on the City Council’s ongoing debate over its new marijuana ordinance. But when the city attorney announced that Don Kojima of Newport Beach had scored 47 acres of prime city-owned land for just $375,000, men in pricey suits began shouting out offers to pay 10 times that much.

Welcome to the unlikely land rush that is transforming this desert town.

Adelanto, known 80 years ago for its fruit trees, is tying its star to another agricultural boom. In November, it became the second city in Southern California to permit commercial cultivation of medical marijuana.

Since then, land prices have skyrocketed as 27 companies secured permits to grow cannabis in Adelanto warehouses. Two more applications are pending.

If the city approves conditional use permits, the first several thousand of a potential half-million square feet of marijuana could be growing in Adelanto by summer. At full production, cultivators could churn out roughly 50,000 pounds of marijuana up to six times a year to service California’s growing medical marijuana industry.

Adding to the surreal scene playing out here are reports of celebrity tie-ins.

Ky-Mani Marley, one of Bob Marley’s sons, has already signed on to license a strain of cannabis that will be grown there, according to Freddy Sayegh, the attorney on the project. Tommy Chong has also shown interest. So has B-Real of Cypress Hill fame, plus other high-profile musicians and professional athletes whose names are being kept under wraps.

The rush comes as California rolls out its Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which creates a licensing program for cannabis businesses including cultivators. But investors are also looking toward November, when California voters are expected to legalize recreational marijuana – with the Golden State projected to dwarf the nearly $1 billion brought in by Colorado’s adult-use market in 2015.

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