It’s been 170 years since the beginning of the California Gold Rush. On Jan. 24, 1848, James Marshall found gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma. Although California wasn’t yet a state, the discovery was a boon to the entire national economy. Immigrants flowed into the territory, gold seeped out of veins, and money poured into local and national coffers. On September 9, 1850, California became the 31st state.
Although the real wealth eventually became concentrated in the hands of the few (businessmen like Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, and William Randolph Hearst), the great potential for success drew “forty-niners” from South America, Latin American, the Sandwich Islands (now, Hawai’i), U.S. territories, and other states. It is very likely that descendants of these people did well enough economically to form the largest middle class in the country, possibly in the world.
The population exploded from 14,000 in 1848 to 250,000 in 1852. (Native Americans were not counted; their numbers shrank as more non-Native people moved in and pushed them off the land.) By the turn of the century, there were nearly 1.5 million people counted by the Census Bureau, most of whom had settled into cities. By 2000, the population was about 34 million, and today it is approaching 40 million.
Shipping became a big business. Between 1825 and 1847, an annual average of 25 ships sailed into the state’s ports. In 1849, California welcomed 793 ships; in 1850, 803. Passengers disembarked in San Francisco because of its relative closeness to the gold fields, and the city’s population soared from about 200 in 1846 to 36,000 in 1852. In many cases, ships’ crews jumped ship and headed for the gold fields. During the decade of the 1850s, more than 28 million ounces of gold (today’s value: $1,320 per ounce) were taken from rivers and mines.
Now, California has the largest economy in the United States. In 1997, it was the first state to reach the trillion-dollar benchmark in gross state product; in 2012, $2 trillion. It also leads the nation in agricultural production, and ferments 90 percent of all U.S. wine from the 3.3 million tons of wine grapes that are grown annually on more than half a million acres. In 2012, its economy was ranked the ninth largest in the world.
In the early decades of the 20th century, California became home to the movie industry. World War II brought aeronautics and other technical industries. The post-war era ushered in electronics, which gave the state Silicon Valley and the lead in computer research and dot-com industries. And, 2018 has produced the Second Gold Rush.
“This is a whole new world opening up,” according to Diana Gladden of Oakland, who was quoted by Thomas Fuller in his New York Times article. “My mother,” she continued, “a very strict Southern Baptist, now thinks it’s O.K. because it’s legal.” Of course, Ms. Gladden was speaking of marijuana, the recreational drug that became legal in the Golden State on Monday.
Reporting for CNN, Theresa Waldrop said, “California began selling recreational marijuana Monday in what’s seen as a milestone in the mainstreaming of the drug, and hundreds lined up to buy it.” Of course, Ms. Waldrop is referring to “pot,” “weed,” “s--t,” and lots of other words that are easy to pronounce when one is higher than a kite. The drug (and some would dispute my use of that term) became legal for recreational use by adults as a result of Proposition 64, which passed 57 percent to 43 percent, in November 2016.
Fuller reports that a spokesman for California’s Bureau of Cannabis (the technical term for marijuana) Control said that about 100 dispensaries in the state were licensed to sell recreational pot on Monday. But, only a handful of cities, including Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, and San Diego are initially dispensing the product. The key municipalities of San Francisco and Los Angeles have held back, but are expected to issue licenses in the near future.
Elation and caution
California is the sixth state to approve the sale of recreational marijuana, coming on the heels of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada. With the Golden State now offering the product, it is available along the entire west coast of the United States. However, Massachusetts and Maine are expected to begin sales sometime later in the year.
While television images showed customers and shop owners laughing and cheering, many people had a rather blasé attitude. California is somewhat different from the other states that allow sales of pot because it already had a vast industry producing the drug. And it has been sold illegally for decades. By one estimate, according to Fuller, California produces seven times more marijuana than its population consumes.
He deduces, “Legalization here will test whether that vast black market of growers, many of whom have been reluctant to join the legal market, will come out of the shadows.” Perhaps that is why he observed only a handful of people waiting in line for a dispensary to open in Berkeley. A college student, who claimed to be in the queue just for the novelty of the situation, told him, “I have a friend who grows it. I can get it much cheaper.”
Writing for Business.com, Bruce Haring points out, “Smoking weed from legal establishments will also be more expensive than street versions, thanks to the taxes imposed by the state. California anticipates generating a billion dollars in new revenue from recreational sales within a few years.”
Additionally, its just a matter of time before traditional businesses figure out a way to cash in on the bonanza. According to Haring, “Jack-in-the-Box, Inc. has partnered with a digital media company backed by Snoop Dogg on a new munchie meal for hungry smokers, becoming the first national fast food chain to formally embrace the marijuana user community.” The “Merry Munchie Meal” will have a one-week trial run later this month. The meal, which features two tacos, French fries, onion rings, five mini churros, three chicken strips, and a small drink, will sell for $4.20.
True potheads will ask the window person to “supersize that.” Don’t worry. Be happy.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.