On the radio the other day I heard two women talking about the cannabis industry in Humboldt County, and the challenges they face from new regulations and changing market forces as cannabis becomes legal. They talked about “bad press” as one of those challenges. Apparently, Humboldt County’s cannabis industry has come in for some bad press lately. Specifically, they talked about the recent article in Reveal, by Shoshana Walter, about sex abuse and human trafficking in Southern Humboldt’s marijuana industry.
The women on the radio admitted that it was a fair article, and that the facts contained in it were disturbing, but they talked about it from the perspective of how this article negatively effects the Humboldt Brand. The story itself revolved around several different woman who had been lured back to remote SoHum cannabis farms with the promise of work, and then held against their will and sexually abused. Most of the women profiled, never went to the police, so the perpetrators remain at large, in our community, presumably. I can see where people might not want to buy pot grown by rapists, if they have a choice, and I can see where this kind of bad press might hurt the Humboldt brand, but that’s not what shocked me about this conversation.
What shocked me, was what the women were not talking about. They were not talking about the very serious problem described in the article. They were not talking about rape culture in our community. They were not talking about how we can prevent rape in our community. Even as harvest season draws neigh, they were not talking about setting up an emergency phone line, or starting a campaign to raise awareness, and discourage this horrendous behavior by local landowners perpetrated against transients. No, they were talking about how “bad press” tarnishes their brand.
A couple of weeks ago another local teenager beat another old man, nearly to death, in the Town Square in Garberville. Besides rape and human trafficking, local teenagers beating old men with baseball bats is another chronic problem around here. Admittedly, it’s not as sexy as the human trafficking story, but it still has the potential to bring bad press, and it certainly happens often enough. We laugh off the graffiti-covered, vandalized, and burned-out vehicles on our county roads, but someone might make a picture book called “The Wreckage of Humboldt County.” What would that do for your brand?
We have a problem. It’s not a matter of branding. It’s about what the War on Drugs has done to us, and what we have become. We have a problem. We have a problem that money can’t solve. It’s a cultural problem that drags down our quality of life, drives social dysfunction, and leads to most of our “bad press.” If we could face facts and work together, we could beat this problem, but first we need to admit that we have a problem.
We don’t have an image problem. This problem effects us much more than it effects how other people see us. The rapes and the murders and the beatings happen in our community, and they involve our people. Who cares what Reveal readers think of it? We create a culture of violence and coercion here in our community, because our community has been shaped by the violence and coercion of the War on Drugs.
We all feel economic pressure. Some of us buckle under that pressure, give up and turn to drugs. Most of us work entirely too much, and pay taxes in hopes of enjoying the few hours we have to enjoy our lives in a decent civilized society. Meanwhile, some of us decide to cheat the system. For whatever reason, we overlook the harm it causes. We tell ourselves that it’s OK and that everyone does it, but internally, it corrupts us.
Profiting from prohibition is like drinking the blood of the community. Before long, you divide the community into two groups of people, “our people,” the people you love and nourish with your illegal loot, and “those people,” the ones who buy your product, do your work, take your order and stock your grocery shelves, whose blood you drink to survive. Here, we try to build a community from people who cheat the community for a living, and we wonder why we find it so draining.
At one time, the cheaters had plenty of money. They were generous and eager for any opportunity to improve their image, which lead to a whole wave of non-profit organizations who sprang up to accommodate them. These groups survive by getting dope yuppies drunk and telling them how great they are for supporting this work. In this way, the community was able to suck back some of their own blood. It worked for a while, but it’s not exactly what you would call, “functional.”
Today, legalization isn’t just about converting illegal enterprises into legal enterprises. It is about people who have cowered in the shadows their whole lives learning to stand up and become pillars of the community. It’s about people with few skills and wildly unrealistic expectations experiencing economic pressure they’ve never had to deal with before. It’s about facing that economic pressure, head-on, without cheating, and learning to do something else for a living. In other words, it’s about rehabilitation. It’s about time we faced the fact that we need it.
The War on Drugs attracts the worst people, and it brings out the worst in people. The cruel hand of the War on Drugs has twisted and warped our community for more than 40 years, and for all that time we’ve hidden it behind a veil of secrecy. As we move towards legalization, and the gnarled, twisted beast we’ve become, steps into the light of day for the first time, the truth about what we have become could easily make a bigger impact on Humboldt County’s reputation than the quality of our weed.
We’ve got two or three generations of dysfunction to overcome. Forty years of suspicion, secrecy and lies. Forty years of unrealistic expectations. Forty years of “us vs them” thinking. Forty years of corruption and parasitism. Forty years of gambling with your life. Forty years of stress. Forty years of CAMP, and ripoffs, and rats and mites and mold and mildew. Forty years of war.
Forget about trying to compete in the new legal cannabis industry. We’ve got rapes and murders and senseless hate-crimes going on, right here, all the time. We’ve got real problems, and our dysfunction presents a much bigger challenge to our future than competition in the cannabis industry. We have a lot of healing to do, and we need to go through a process of truth and reconciliation. Until we come to terms with what we have done, and what has been done to us, this war will never be over for us.
We need to tell the truth about what happened to us, and how it came to this. We need to reconnect with our own humanity and relearn empathy. We need to learn to live honestly and stand on our own two feet, before we try to step into a bigger pair of shoes, and we need to learn to live within our own means, without the overblown expectations of a dope yuppie. Those things will make our community stronger in the long run, which will make SoHum a better place to live, which makes us all richer, regardless of how much money we have.
We can’t control the marijuana industry, and we can’t prevent legalization, but we can change our culture. We can change our habits and build inclusive community values. We can refuse to tolerate rape in this community. We can offer a safe place, and an emergency phone line for women in trouble, and we can stop whipping our young men into hateful violent frenzies. We have a lot of work to do here in Southern Humboldt, but it’s not about building the Humboldt brand, it’s about rehabilitating our community, and it’s about time we got to work on that.