Now some folks aren’t so sure.
A statewide initiative in November would allow cities to regulate pot possession and cultivation. Democratic Assemblyman
Yet as medical marijuana has spread and city and
state budgets are being slashed, legalized marijuana is becoming more
possible than ever. That has some people here thinking twice.
Wholesale prices have dropped in the last five years — from
Recently, “Keep Pot Illegal” bumper stickers have
been seen on cars around the county. In chat rooms and on blogs,
anonymous writers predict that tobacco companies will crush small
farmers and take marijuana production to the
With legalization, if residents don’t act, “we’re going to be ruined,” said
In March, Hamilton organized a community meeting in
addressing the question “What’s After Pot?” It attracted more than 150
people, including a county supervisor, economic development consultants
and business owners.
All this was unimaginable to the hippies and student
radicals who came here in the 1960s and ’70s, escaping a conventional
world they abhorred. As marijuana’s price steadily rose, it funded
their escape. In time, mom-and-pop growers became experts.
The plant thrived in the tolerant climate — cultural and geographic — of far
Following Hamilton’s lead, a meeting will be held in
For years the plant was only a small part of the
Today, harvestable redwoods are mostly gone; so,
too, the sawmills. Salmon beds are covered with silt. Marijuana stands
as a major source of income, even for many whose grandparents worked
the sawmills and 40 years ago railed at the pot-smoking hippies moving
into their midst.
Though growing is widespread, particularly in southern
it remains illegal for those not connected to a medical marijuana
collective. Every year growers are arrested and sent to prison. Some
live in paranoid isolation, telling their children not to discuss their
parents’ work. Meanwhile, they’ve gotten used to selling a weed for
thousands of dollars a pound.
Legalization could take many forms. But the
conventional wisdom here is that fully legal weed might fetch no more
than a few hundred dollars a pound, as more people grow it and police
no longer pull up millions of plants a year.
Illegal marijuana “is the government’s best agricultural price-support program ever,” said
a retired engineer and former volunteer fire chief who moved to the
county in 1970. “If they ever want to help the wheat farmers, make
On the other hand, increased demand for legal pot might buoy its price.
“If it’s regulated like cigarettes, you’re going to have a massive increase in demand for it, I would believe,” said
Either way, though, talk of legalization raises a question: Is
Humboldt’s competitive advantage in growing pot, or in growing pot
Plantations divert water from streams and rivers.
Some growers use huge diesel generators to power greenhouses on
mountainsides — growing indoors in the outdoors. Occasional spills from
these generators have devastated streams. Indoor growers, meanwhile,
devour electricity. Officials estimate that 800 to 2,000 houses in
“That advantage, if you will, is going to be gone if it’s legal,” Eschker said.
Any well-designed legalization ought to ensure that
“other people in the community won’t have to pick up the tab for an
industry cutting corners,” said county Supervisor
How many could do that is unclear.
At stake, many locals say, is more than a business;
it’s a way of life. The cannabis economy has spawned numerous
nonprofits and community health and arts groups, which depend on
growers for sustenance.
“It’s morally right that marijuana be legal,” said
“But I know why they want to say, ‘No, don’t let this happen to us,’
because we’re going to die. It already happened with the logging
But others say legalization would create a more
solid, independent economy in the long run for the county, which has a
population of 129,000. Instead of depending on one crop, “the community
would learn all over again about economic self-sufficiency” that the
original hippies moved here to achieve, Myers said.
More houses and agricultural land might again find
legal uses, the theory goes, thus making property more affordable. The
county might actually be invigorated, said
“It saps some community energy when you have your
best and brightest out in the hills growing and not contributing in the
same way they would if they went off to college and came back to
teach,” he said. “Whenever you have 20-year-olds making six-figure
incomes, it’s an economic house of cards.”
Once legal, marijuana cultivation might well lose
its outlaw glamour, to be replaced by the daily grind and smaller
profits that farmers all face. Growers would have to keep books, pay
taxes and abide by pesticide regulations.
Grocery stores, car dealers, construction-supply
outlets and other retailers would have to adjust. So, too, would
thousands of residents, many with full-time jobs, who make ends meet by
trimming marijuana at harvest season for
With so few voters,
is unlikely to influence what happens statewide. “We’re better off
trying to figure out what the pathway would be to a robust industry
cluster with (marijuana) as its product,” said Kathy Moxon of the
Humboldt Area Foundation, a community nonprofit.
Radio host Hamilton has suggested new school curricula, urging that a community college satellite campus planned for
Moxon sees an opportunity to take business away from
Oaksterdam University, which offers classes in marijuana growing, the
science of cannabis, new methods of ingestion, even the weed’s history.
“We’re the place where people should come to learn to grow,” Moxon said. “Who wants to go to
Then there is the
But achieving a
weed growers have found anathema. Remarkably, Hamilton’s “What’s After
Pot?” meeting was the first time the topic was discussed so openly and
thus stunned many locals. And no one seems to have investigated how a
Still, the idea resonates.
Said Hamilton: “It’s appellation or Appalachia.”
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