The Plant and the Prohibition. The Politicians and the Propaganda. The People and the Power.
Humboldt County, Northern California. The Emerald Triangle lies just behind the Redwood Curtain. Home to the worlds tallest trees, the oldest running minor league baseball team The Humboldt Crabs, home to Humboldt State University and it’s renowned environmental studies and environmental sciences program, home to several, several breweries and vineyards, and the best cannabis this side of… well, Mars.
If Humboldt has become synonymous with anything, its the plants; primarily the astounding redwoods, reaching over three hundred feet high and some over two thousand years old. They dot the land, many of the elder trees taken long ago by hungry, greedy or desperate settlers and loggers. Redwood, Oak, Madrone, Pine, and many other fine woods abound.
The second plant of Humboldt fame is the cannabis plant. As history repeats itself environmental considerations again take a back seat to earnings. It has—especially in the last ten years though it’s production in this county goes back some fifty years—joined the redwoods as our image, what Humboldt has come to mean to the rest of the world. Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino Counties make up the Emerald Triangle (Emerald as in the color of cannabis) but it is Humboldt, particularly Southern Humboldt, where those first seeds were planted, where genetics and sexing were discovered and determined, where sinsemilla was born, that can claim the North American home of the illegal Emerald, the beating heart of the Triangle.
It was in the mid 1960’s when the Berkeley Barb, a popular news rag among the hippies and revolutionaries in and around the Bay Area first published an article about the fertile empty space, the cheap land available just a few hours north of the Bay Area. It just so happened that this land was perfect for growing cannabis. Much of the hash circulating at the time came from Afghanistan, and indeed of you were to place a finger on a globe in Afghanistan and spin that globe, your finger will land in Humboldt. One at a time, a couple at a time, a few at a time, hippies headed north. Communes were established and cannabis seeds were planted.
This trend continues unabated today. In the Seventies more moved to Humboldt in hopes of living their dreams; living off the land, mostly self-supported, getting out of the city and closer to nature, solo or in a commune they planted other fruits and veggies and raised sheep, chicken, and goats. They planted apple trees, plums and prunes, grapes, kiwi, and root veggies. At five thousand dollars for forty acres of land and a pound of pot going for about the same, many folks who emigrated in the Sixties, Seventies, and even the Eighties got quite wealthy.
The Eighties brought even more change to Humboldt and the Emerald Triangle. CAMP (an acronym for the Campaign Against Marijuana Production) came in with a vengeance. Cannabis had been legal, even encouraged as a fiber, a medicine, and much more, until a team of aristocratic robber barons, chiefly executives from the paper, textiles/fibers, medicine, oil/petroleum, alcohol and tobacco, and timber trades came together to back the Harrison Marihuana—itself a term coined by these ‘titans of industry’ to tie cannabis use to lazy Mexicans, smoking the ‘Devil’s Weed’) and “a proclivity towards white woman raping by intoxicated black jazz musicians, smoking ‘tea’—Tax Stamp Act, essentially requiring one to obtain a tax stamp to grow or possess cannabis. No stamps were ever made. Indeed the deep well of lies surrounding cannabis and it’s use and the untold lives ruined can be directly traced back to this nonsense tax stamp, as this egregious dishonesty miraculously somehow still exists today.
One backer was William Randolph Hearst—son of robber baron George Hearst who killed hundreds scouring the country for gold, silver and other metals—the newspaper mogul had no problem filling his paper with petulant propaganda and flat out lies.
In the Eighties The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting/Production flew helicopters over the entire Emerald Triangle fervently for years, funded in part by the Humboldt and Mendocino PD/SO but mostly by the Federal Government, they took whatever plants and presumed associated lives they could find. CAMP flew heavily for decades, just barely high enough to miss homes and schools, it was to many mom-and-pop grow shops like living in a war torn country. In this case the government was waging war on peaceful peoples opposed to traditional medicines and food, opposed to unjust and unsubstantiated laws, opposed to the outright lies the oligarchs of old were told and believed. These folks saw through the hypocrisy, of a financially invested tycoon making up his own laws as he went along, ensuring his laws served only to amass his fortune and the many fortunes of his associates, and risked their all to live a life based on intrinsic truth and inherent honesty.
By the Nineties, a new surge came to Humboldt. The burgeoning rave scene around the country took a hit when MDMA was added to the list of illegal drugs (now ranked by President Nixon and Narcotics Officer Henry J. Anslinger by a schedule, supposedly though absolutely not scientifically based on “medical applications” and “abuse potential”) and the parties became a favorite of police looking to make easy arrests of peaceful people. At the same time the Grateful Dead was ending their thirty year run and though more and more jam bands began touring as grunge took over the plastic hair metal scene, cannabis and it’s popularity, both as medicine and as the safest recreational drug in existence, seemed to hit a new high. I myself first moved here to attend Humboldt State University in 1996.
In 1996 California, with the tireless help of Dennis Peron (good friend of assassinated, because he was an openly gay—SF politician Harvey Milk), passed Proposition 215. Mr. Peron was moved by what he saw during the AIDS epidemic and how useful cannabis was in those simply ‘wasting away’; unable to eat, sleep, or smile. Prop 215 would go down in history as the first law since the Harrison Tax Act allowing the use of cannabis (although only ‘medically’) passed! Humboldt County would feel the ramifications of this legislation, as Oakland became Oaksterdam and LA boasted more Cannabis Dispenseries than Starbucks and McDonalds combined (this is no longer the case), Humboldt real estate prices soared and summertime population growth echoed the increased production to meet these new demand for workers.
When I moved here cannabis was certainly a part of everyday life. Although I had lived all over the country by this point, to most, myself included, Humboldt cannabis was consistently the best we’d encountered. Some smoked all day, some only in the evenings, some only at special events and some not at all. When considering all other drugs of abuse, few are used occasionally, and none but cannabis leave the user with his or her full set of capabilities even after daily ingestion is abruptly ceased. While most high grade smoke is produced indoors employing chemical fertilizers and climate control, Humboldt grows outdoors, organically, and sustainably, and the smoke is a hundred times superior.. that is at least until ’96…
The present Green Rush was and presently is much like the Gold Rush. I left Humboldt County to return to the East Coast for a decade. Though I lived briefly in the Southern end of the county, the home of cannabis cultivation—ground zero—I was mainly involved in the recovery community and although I worked for a cannabis cloning operation I abstained from using. When I lived in the Northern end of the county I was more involved in the psilocibin mushroom market (even picked up a felony charge for possessing a mushroom that grows under trees!), another illegal organic product of the planet. When I returned to Southern Humboldt in 2008, I found an industry that had taken over the northern half of the state. Not only was Southern Humboldt notorious for cultivation, now the entire Emerald Triangle; Hoopa, Trinity, Weaverville, Blue Lake, Willow Creek, Mad River, Laytonville, and even places like Santa Rosa and Eugene, OR and the Sierras/Gold Country had got in on the act.
The scene I returned to seemed a far cry from the one I left. In 1996 a few people grew cannabis, by 2016 it seems everyone and their mother have at least a couple plants, especially here at ground zero, Southern Humboldt. CAMP has all but ceased operating, several states have passed full legalization legislation and a dozen others passed medical use only acts. The more cannabis gains political acceptance (due mostly to constituent pressure and wealthy venture capitalists) the more demand seems to increase, and with the numerous diverse medical applications and it’s extreme safety compared to all other celebratory substances it’s no mystery why. But this has caused problems here in production central. As demand grows so it seems does greed, and with that callousness and carelessness. The same greed that led these men of yesterday to outlaw a plant that posed only one threat, to their income, seems to be dictating the practices of many growers today. If one needs to lie, cheat, steal, and/or make a mess to turn a dollar one shall do so.
In 2016 California passed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. This is not a first of it’s kind, but more comprehensive than previous efforts like the one made by Sheriff Tom Allman a county to the south. Essentially the evolving laws and disintegrating lies surrounding cannabis production are combining in attempt to reroute the industry. Illegal cartel grows on state park land have been commonplace for some time, but like the rest of the industry continue to grow with demand. Bodies found in the hills, shortage of housing and an abundance of other, profoundly dangerous drugs have infested the scene bringing a new danger to a once peaceful enterprise. Now the police weren’t cannabis’s only dangerous side effect.
As cannabis dwelled in the black market for some forty plus years it found its distribution network among those working with other illegal intoxicants. Cocaine, heroin, pill, and meth dealers have also found a supplemental income stream with cannabis. Often these are the folks willing to partake in an illegal market as they already do so. Many times pot is sold, or traded, for harder substances which now infest this county. Many times the stress of growing for ten years under constant threat and surveillance leads growers to substances which might lessen the stress or up the confidence, their kids grow up hating law enforcement and distrusting our legal system. Alienated from much of the culture..
A county which survives on the black market, often devoid of other activities for both young and old, has now found itself in a drug epidemic. Meth and heroin now dominate Humboldt County. Is their use associated with cannabis? Absolutely.
As “climate change deniers” will still have you believe, pot is dangerous. When twelve or thirteen year olds go to try their parents pot and find thats not exactly the case, many go on to harder substances believing their being lied to about those as well. Many do not understand what is and what is not legal is primarily based on whether the substance can be patented and distributed strictly by drug dealers aka pharmaceutical companies. Indeed after a least 5000 years of use, some medical doctors bound to their associates and their investments, will say “the facts concerning cannabis and cancer are still out”. It seems behind every ill, every lie, you’ll find some financial tie.
Humboldt County is in crisis. The murder rate continues to grow year after year, last years being the highest on record. I recently read each citizen consumes an average of twelve Vicodin’s daily! Homelessness is a huge issue as a drive through Garberville in August makes abundantly clear. A booming illegal trade is behind much of this. Though no different in much of the country; the lies, the financial ties, the poverty and addiction, the death tolls of both, the big difference here is the amount of disposable cash income produced by the cannabis trade.
That said, other than perhaps more disposable cash floating around, and a product which often trades for less beneficial substances, I don’t see Humboldt County and it’s “Culture of Pot” (perhaps an industry of pot), or its Culture of Art nor it’s historic first Green Party majority city council, nor the Redwood National Park culture and history of activism as any different as whats happening everywhere. Everywhere. The black market dealings here don’t help keep black market items out, but how does that explain Vermont, or Kentucky, or Mpumalanga or Novokuznetsk? These places do not have cannabis industry but they do have the same punitive punishment model for a crime created by a half dead think tank and continually upheld by those same criminals or their descendants income stability.
Decriminalization is the only way to end any possible connection to the black market cannabis currently occupies. Lives are not ruined by pot unless it’s by arrest. Pot does not make one lazy, but lazy people find it an easy cop-out. The fifteen rehabs, countless detoxes and jail terms, years of sociology and psychology classes, and over a decade spent living in and growing in So-Hum has given me the subjective and objective experience to say so with confidence. Out of two hundred plus met inpatients one was for pot, and it was soon clear he was depressed and in the wrong place. The most dangerous elements, the lives ruined, are a direct result of a black market borne of fortune building and the need for a submissive focused underclass work force. A kid who’s father spends fifteen years in jail for a plant is more likely to abuse substances. A father who’s got enough disposable income to get out of anything might be willing to take more risks. Cannabis in Israel is down to fifty cents a gram. They report no financial or or emotional costs. They’ve stopped lying.
Wanna reduce harm? Decriminalize (stop sending non-violent victimless flower growing family members to jail) and tell the truth (stop telling people pot is dangerous, they believe it even less after trying it and may well move on to harder substances). Separate this medicine (and all other medicines) from the outrageous malarky called the drug schedule. Want to save our community and spectacular environment (amazing how PGE and BP can cause destruction on a global scale but clearing a 20 x 50 ft space to garden is…real destruction!?) Start by telling the truth. Stop making criminals out of citizens working towards the benefit of their friends and family, and the massive environmental destruction thanks purely to unjust laws feeding a lucrative black market. Most gardens used to be mom-and-pop, now they are 20 acres of hoops funded by venture capitalists.
Those who benefit from cannabis and its contested cultivation are the same ones that started this mess; the alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industries, paper, textiles, and even petroleum, but those that seem to do the best are the police, the prison guards, and the politicians. The families seem an afterthought at that. No wonder the kid who’s parents are both serving ten years for a plant turned to heroin to numb the pain.
You can’t blame nature for a problem people produced, perpetuate, and police. The people have spoken, now we wait for those with political capital and economic clout to catch up.
The Earth was flat for a looong time.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
Why I Changed my Mind on Weed; Why I am “Doubling Down” on Medical Marijuana
By Jennifer Welsh and Kevin Lori, Business Insider
23 Health Benefits of Marijuana
By Marc Howard, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
By Todd Woody, TakePart’s editorial director
Senate Bill No. 643, California Legislature
Joseph Leeper, California Geographical Society
GLENDA ANDERSON, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT Pot raids uncover ‘egregious’ environmental damage in Emerald Triangle
Humboldt County, Criminal Investigations Division
One Good Year, KQED Truly California, ((Documentary))
How Weed Won The West, Kevin Booth, ((Documentary))