Drug Dealers I Have Known


One of the things I despise most about the War on Drugs is the people you have to associate with to find weed on the black market. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life hanging out with people I would have rather not known, in order to buy pot. When I was in high school, I used to get weed from a guy who lived in a run down farmhouse behind a gas station. He seemed like a cool guy, and I wanted to like him. I thought the colorful bantam chickens that ran around the yard, and that he cared for, made him more endearing.


At the time, I thought cock fighting was as arcane and anachronistic as bear-baiting. Then, one time, I visited his place, and he made me wait, to watch him spar two roosters. He put the two roosters on the ground in the corner of the barn. They immediately became aggressive and attacked each other in a flurry of feathers and kicks. Within a couple of minutes, one of the roosters had punctured the other rooster’s lung with a kick of his hind foot spur. The injured rooster coughed and spat blood.


The guy separated the two birds before the injured bird died, but not before killing my buzz, and my appetite. This was the only guy I knew who sold weed at the time. The last time I visited him, he had the ugliest dog I had ever seen, chained to a tree in the front yard. The dog barked ferociously. He told me it was a “pit bull.” I had never seen one before. I hoped I would never see one again. By this time, he still sold weed, but was more into coke, and he was the first person to offer to sell me cocaine.


After high school, I got my own place, a room, in Akron OH, near Akron U, and started my first cannabis garden. I’ve mostly grown my own weed ever since, but, like most people, I’ve had to move several times, or for other reasons found it impractical to grow at times.


For a while, I bought weed from an older biker in Akron. His place was almost a drive-through. You had to get out of your car and go knock on the door, but once you stepped inside it was strictly business. You told him what you wanted, gave him your money, and he pointed you towards a microwave oven, in which sat a bowl of quarter-ounce bags of weed.


I wanted to like the guy, because he had weed, but his priorities were all wrong, from my perspective. He had a brand new big TV, front and center, but only a shitty stereo, in the corner, and no good records. Artwork on the wall featured almost naked, unnaturally top-heavy women posing on unnaturally clean machines. This, despite the fact that he shared the home with his wife and school age daughter. It seemed like a pitiful situation to me. He had a brand new Harley, while I walked to work to my job as a busboy, and I gave him at least a quarter of my weekly earnings for a while. Still, I felt sorry for the guy.


There was a time when I got weed from gaunt, hollow, hard-looking man who visited my home. He would invariably arrive wearing a long-sleeve flannel shirt, unbuttoned, and would use one hand to hold the bottom of the T-shirt he wore underneath, up, forming a pouch over his sunken belly. He’d come in, look around furtively, sit down, and then open up that pouch into his lap, revealing a jumble of prescription bottles, plastic baggies and cash.


He always seemed disorganized and paranoid, and tried to up-sell me on narcotics and coke. He told me how fun they were. I never felt tempted. He seemed to like those drugs himself, and to me, he did not look well, and he did not seem fun. I remember being eager for him to leave. He seemed to think the cops were after him, and I sure didn’t want them to find him in my place.


Then, for a little while, I got weed from a guy who lived with his wife and three kids, in a two-bedroom apartment in a subsidized housing project. We hung out in one of the bedrooms, which had been converted into a sick, hip-hop recording studio fully decorated in Gangsta. One room, packed full of high-tech gadgets and dripping with bling, abject poverty crying in the next room. It creeped me out.



Not everyone I got weed from was that bad, but those are the memorable ones. Mostly, the pot dealers I knew were simply more acquisitive, materialistic and conventional than I am. They like weighing things on scales, and measure values in grams, ounces and pounds. I feel silly performing weird religious rites over a commodity, so I hardly ever weigh the pot I grow and I value other things, like character, hard work, and creative originality more than stuff.

'No thank you.  I already have enough stuff.'

To be fair, I did, for a little while, get weed from a delightful, and inspiring guy I knew in Boston. I don’t consider him a drug dealer, because I had to give him money, up-front, before he could go and get weed for me. He was a classically trained musician, who had played oboe in the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra for a while. When I knew him, he made his living by busking in the Boston T, playing dixieland jazz on the saxophone.


He was an old guy, when I knew him, but I found him delightful company, and we always had plenty to talk about. He was spry, witty, and animated, and loved to paint. He always impressed me with his sensitivity, intelligence, and compassion. He was a fantastic player who loved what he did. Still is, and does, I hope. His band occasionally played fancy shindigs for the Boston elite. “Squares” he called them, really. He’s the kind of guy that made marijuana famous, and he’s as good as it gets on the black market.


I bought California sinsemilla from all of these people. This is what the black market looks like, and if you grow weed, these are your distributors. It’s ugly, and it’s dangerous, and it’s not exactly the kind of place you want your kids to hang out. There is nothing cool about being a drug dealer, and most of the drug dealers I have known, have not been very cool people. We need safe access to marijuana at prices that put the black market out of business. It’s time to legalize marijuana and end this creepshow once and for all.


SoHum Needs Rehab


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.


SoHum’s Latest Embarrassment


If you want to see, first-hand, why you can’t build a community with people who cheat the social contract, come to Garberville to see just how dysfunctional a town dominated by drug dealers and real estate leeches can be. From the vandalized and burned-out vehicles along our county roads, to the open hostility towards the poor and homeless in town, to the online comments that stack up, like so many stale crackers, beneath every slab of “Hardin” cheese, SoHum shows off its dysfunction with a breathtaking lack of self-consciousness. It’s embarrassing, frankly.


A number of people approached me on Friday to ask if I planned to write about our latest embarrassment, namely, the hideous orange fence around the new Garberville Town Square. The Garberville Town Square, as the Garberville Town Square Association reminds us, is on private property. So, the owners of the Garberville Town Square have decided that they don’t like the way the public uses their space. They’ve fenced it off with repulsive orange plastic temporary fencing, and asked the Sheriff to evict anyone who dares set foot in it. The Garberville Town Square Committee announced this 60 day closure, just as the annual influx of seasonal workers and cannabis tourists began to arrive to celebrate and bring in the Fall harvest.


Every year, right about this time, every pot-smoking free-spirited freak and hippie in the world thinks about coming to Humboldt County to get high, camp in the woods, and make some money trimming weed. Some of them actually go through with it. Trimming remains a huge bottleneck in the cannabis industry, and with so much recent expansion, the need for temporary workers at harvest time has only increased. People wouldn’t keep coming back if they didn’t find work, and people do come back, year after year. It’s a thing.


Cannabis attracts a really diverse group of people, trending towards the young and enthusiastic, from all over the world. Trim jobs especially appeal to foreign travelers looking for a way to make some money without a green card. Some of them have never seen a mature cannabis plant before. Few of them will make a career of trimming weed, but all of them want to spend a few weeks buried in marijuana and have some cash money to show for it. It’s also a great opportunity to meet people, share stories and make friends.

trimming pot

Every year, these people show up. Every year, they have nowhere to go, so they hang out in town, and every year, people in town get angry, call the cops, and rout them out and fence them off from anyplace they try to congregate. Neighbors’ complaints about people congregating in the Garberville Town Square, especially after dark, prompted the Town Square closure, and the ugly orange fence. I understand that having a whole lot of rambunctious young people in town can impact your life in a lot of ways, and I sympathize, but it’s not like you didn’t know they were coming.


It really amazes me that a community that depends so heavily on the marijuana industry, could treat the people who make that industry profitable, so badly. If you want the people who love marijuana and smoke marijuana every day to think highly of “the Humboldt Brand,” it seems to me that you would want them to enjoy themselves, and feel good about the time they spend here in Humboldt County. Instead, we try to make it into a war zone for them, in hopes that they will leave, but they stay anyway. Thanks to the War on Drugs, they are used to living in war zones, and have come to expect this kind of treatment.


If we had any sense around here, we could turn harvest season into the biggest tourist draw of the year. It could become a two month festival, that makes Reggae on the River kind of money, week after week until it starts to rain. Just open a huge campground, down at the Community Park perhaps, park a few food trucks down there, open a canteen, offer “trimmer training” courses, set up a flea market, a cafe, and plenty of porta-potties, and keep it all out of town.


A lot of people come here looking for work, and the industry, as it stands, genuinely needs most of their labor. The more we cater to their needs, the more of that money we can keep in our community. The infrastructure necessary to accommodate the people who come here every year would not cost that much. It wouldn’t look like much of a status symbol, nor would it provide a scapegoat to vent pent up frustrations on, but it would solve the problem, help the Humboldt brand and create new opportunities for economic diversity which we desperately need.


Instead, we cultivate this escalation of hostilities. We vent. We build fences and hold town meetings. We pass around photographs of human feces like we’ve never seen it before. We pass new ordinances to criminalize poverty, and sleep, and asking for help. We go out into the woods with tazers and video cameras and cops to harass, humiliate and evict our poorest neighbors, and now, for this year’s twist, we fence off our charming little Town Square as though it’s contaminated with radioactivity.


It never works. It didn’t work last year. It didn’t work the year before. It didn’t work the year before that, and it won’t work this year. They’re coming. You can’t stop them any more than you can hold back the tides, or prevent the next earthquake. They’re coming. They’re young. They’re excited. They’re having fun, staying up late at night, taking drugs and blowing off steam, just like you did when you were their age, and they’ll be here until it starts to rain. It’s a fact of life. The sooner we face that fact, the sooner we can solve the problem.


The people who come here for the harvest season really appreciate cannabis. These people love weed, and Fall harvest provides the opportunity to build the Humboldt brand. If people have a good, positive experience while they are here, whether or not they make any money, that could easily translate into a lifetime preference for cannabis products bearing the Humboldt name. Now that prohibition has all but ended, people have lots of cannabis choices. Brand loyalty can easily make the difference between success and failure in the legal market.


If we can just face the fact that people need a place to be, and make space for people, we can solve a lot of problems, relieve a lot of stress, and create a lot of new economic opportunities. We can’t keep pretending that we’re just a normal quiet small town and that we have no idea why all of these hippies keep coming here every Fall. We can’t make them go away, but we can solve problems, make peace, and make money, if we can just face facts and take responsibility. That is, we could, if we were that kind of people.


Sizzla, Community Values, and the Mateel

sizzla reggae on the river

I do not enjoy criticizing local nonprofits, but the recent controversy around the the Mateel Community Center’s choice to book “Murder Music” superstar, Sizzla, to headline this year’s Reggae on the River deserves a bit more attention, because it points out some of the pitfalls of importing someone else’ culture rather than developing our own.

we develop culture

I’ve never understood the local fascination with Reggae Music. I love Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. I’ve heard some other reggae music that I liked a lot, but I’ve heard more insipid, preachy, banal and just plain lame reggae music since I’ve moved to Humboldt County than I’ve ever heard before. Listening to the radio around here often reminds me that the global reggae music machine produces plenty of pap that’s every bit as vapid as the American Top 40, as well as religiously themed pop music that rivals Christian Rock, for subtlety and depth.

christain rock

I have deep respect for Rastafarian culture. It’s not my culture, but I respect Rastafarian history, tradition, beliefs, and religion. I know that a lot of people find their strength in Rastafarianism, and I think that’s a beautiful thing, for them. I am not the son of the son of an African slave. I do not live in poverty in a violent ghetto on the outskirts of a tropical resort city built to serve rich white tourists, and I do not know whether Emperor Haile Salassie is the messiah or not, but he doesn’t mean a lot to me personally.

haile salassie

Like Christianity, like Islam, like Judaism, many people take Rastafarianism seriously, and receive a lot of personal strength from it. Like Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Rastafarianism has apparently spawned some embarrassingly popular, if not seriously threatening, fundamentalists. It happens to every religion, it seems. I mean, what’s the point of finding your personal strength, if you can’t use it to whip some non-believer’s ass once in a while?

church malden

Dance hall music star, Sizzla, obviously enjoys tremendous popularity among reggae music fans, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his strong belief that homosexuality is evil. According to Sizzla, homosexuality is so evil that it is OK to kill homosexuals. In fact, he thinks it’s a good idea to kill homosexuals, and he wants to kill homosexuals. We know that he feels this way because he’s written these sentiments into the lyrics of his songs and stated as much on stage.

sizzla attacks gays

A lot of religions have issues with homosexuality, if not sexuality in general. I don’t understand why religions focus so much time and energy on telling people what not to eat and who not to have sex with, but I think it at least partially explains why most of us are not particularly religious, and why the people who cling to religion the most are often people who don’t get enough to eat, and/or don’t have enough sex.

sexual frustration

We all know gay people, if we’re not gay ourselves, and hopefully, all of us know that it’s NOT OK to kill gay people. I’d like to think that’s a community value we all share around here, but you never know what kinds of ideas people nurture in the privacy of their own minds. For instance, if Sizzla were notorious for his calls for violence against bankers, or real estate tycoons, or drug dealers, I wouldn’t be writing this column. Instead, I’d be writing about this great show I just saw, and about an inspiring artist who tells it like it is.

music isnt just sound


Apparently, that’s how reggae fans see Sizzla. His message resonates with people. I don’t get it, but Sizzla’s music means something to a lot of people. He is highly revered in Jamaica not only as a prolific artist, but also as a community leader, and a strong voice in the Rastafarian movement. Many people here in the US want to hear his message too. I don’t understand Sizzla’s appeal any more than I understand his hatred of gay people, but that’s OK.

sizzla ethiopia

There are lot’s of things about lots of cultures that I don’t understand, but I do understand why you might not want to invite Sizzla to play at your community event, especially if you value the gay people in your community. I’m not worried about other cultures; I’m worried about the culture of this community. Here, in Humboldt County, we value gay people. We appreciate the contribution they make to our society, the diversity they bring to our community, and we love them as friends and family. I would think that this would make Sizzla a very poor choice to headline our biggest community event of the year.

Sizzla-ROTR 2016

The Mateel Community Center was well aware of Sizzla’s anti-gay rhetoric. A similar controversy erupted several years ago when a private promoter booked Buju Banton to play at the Mateel Hall. A protest erupted and the show was canceled. At that time Sizzla was already recognized as one of eight reggae artists labeled “Murder Music” for their blatant endorsement of violence against gay people. The Mateel also knew that booking Sizzla would sell a lot of tickets.

reggae on the river poster 2016

As it turned out, Sizzla’s infamous hatred of the LGBTQ community made him an irresistible bargain for any promoter willing to invite him into the US. The Mateel Community Center, working with the few promoters who were willing to weather the inevitable shit-storm of criticism, made it possible for Sizzla to tour the US for the first time in seven years, and he kicked off that tour at Reggae on the River.

homophobia boycott

We smoke as much weed as Rastas, and we have as much hair as Rastas, but we’re not Rastas. We’re Hippies. Remember? We were once a persecuted minority united by a spiritual ideal too, but we believe in free love. We had some other ideals too, but we’re all still pretty much on board with the idea that any kind of sex is cool, so long as everyone involved in it is an adult, and wants it. Our “local culture” remains fairly amorphous, but I feel safe in saying that we’re a fairly sex-positive community. Come to think of it, we might have a more distinct cultural identity if we didn’t try so hard to drown it in imported Jamaican music.

rastafari has no place for hippies

Near as I can tell, weed is the only real connection between Jamaica’s Rastafarian culture and the community of Southern Humboldt. When I talk to people around here about Reggae on the River, they talk about the history of this community, and they talk about the money. They get big dollar signs in their eyes and talk about how much money it brings into the community, how all the schools and fire departments make their budget there, and they talk about how much weed they sell at it. I’ve never heard anyone around here describe it as a religious revival.

get high reggae on river

I’ve been to Reggae on the River, twice, once as a volunteer and once as a vendor. It’s been a while, but I remember that I had fun. I like getting high as much as anyone, and Reggae on the River is all about getting high, or Irie as the Rastas say. I saw a lot of white, middle-class lushes at Reggae, the kind of people you would expect to see at a hippie drug festival, but I also saw a lot of Rastas in the audience, clearly Reggae on the River means something to them too. In fact, Reggae on the River may mean more to them than it means to us, at this point.


Still, this is our community, and we have facilities like the Mateel Community Center, to promote culture, and to promote culture that supports our community values. The Mateel chose Sizzla to headline Reggae on the River because the “Murder Music” stigma made him a bargain, and that bargain made Reggae on the River profitable this year. Apparently greed is our only true community value.

money talks

Maybe values are just more trouble than they are worth. I mean, if wealthy communities like ours can’t afford them any more, and poor communities sharpen them into offensive weapons designed to kill, maybe we’re better off without them. How much different would it be, really? We’d still have plenty of vapid pop music, and tons of drugs. I’ll bet most people would hardly notice the difference.

top concerts long

The Cannabis Casino

weed casino

Last week I wrote about how our failure to address the housing crisis will ultimately force the emerging legal cannabis industry to move elsewhere in search of a reliable workforce, and about why smart growers are getting out of the business now, while the getting is good. One commenter at LoCO, who has since deleted his comment, said he was getting out of the marijuana business, and lamented that after 20 years in the cannabis industry, he had little to show for his efforts. Another commenter expressed shock and wonder that someone could work in the black market marijuana industry for so long without making more money. This commenter obviously had no experience in the marijuana industry.


The truth is, most people who try to make a career of growing marijuana, fare poorly. Growing pot is more like gambling in a casino than working a job. Legal businesses rely heavily on a stable legal system that supports their activity. From criminal penalties for shoplifting to a court system that upholds and enforces contracts, legal businesses only remain reliably profitable, because the threat of government enforcement keeps everyone honest. The black market marijuana industry enjoys no such support, and is made, largely, of people who specialize in evading law enforcement. No one plays by the rules, treachery, deceit and thievery are common, and violence is trump.

trump points up

Some people hit the jackpot in casinos, but most end up losing money, or at best, breaking even. The same is true of the marijuana industry. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the same marijuana industry that brings so much money into Humboldt County, also produces unbearable poverty for far too many of the people who work in that industry. There are no stable, good paying jobs in the marijuana industry. Instead, people gamble with their lives.

marijuana gamble

Here’s something that happens every day, all day, all over the country. It happened recently to a couple of young friends of mine. They got invited to come out here to work on a pot farm, and to trim the weed at harvest time. They both put in a lot of hard work in the hot sun all Summer, weeks and weeks of 16 hour workdays spent trimming weed, and many cold November nights sleeping in soggy dome tents in the rain. By the end of last year, they had saved a good chunk of money, but they knew they could make even more, if they used the money they earned here, to buy marijuana at Humboldt County prices, take it home with them, and sell it at the prevailing price there.

selling weed why the fuck

Unfortunately, they got pulled-over by a cop in a state with less progressive marijuana laws. The cop arrested them, confiscated their weed, and took their money. They spent a week in jail, had to have their parents bail them out, and hired a lawyer. Not only did they lose a year of their lives and everything they earned, they still have to pay hefty fines, legal fees, and spend a year or more on probation, at least.

chain gang

For a while last winter, in their scissor delirium, they thought they were doing pretty well. They went out to dinner once or twice at the Benbow Inn, bought some expensive scotch at the Redway liquor store, and donated money to KMUD. Now they’re broke, in debt, and have a criminal record. This year they’re back to try again, but they are worse off than when they started.

worse off

Something like that story has happened to almost a million people every year, for almost 50 years now, including about 800,000 last year alone. Just because the marijuana industry brings a lot of money here, that doesn’t mean that most of the people in this industry do well at it. Some do, but a whole lot more have the perception that they are doing well, for a short period of time, just like gamblers in a casino, and that feeling makes gambling, and the marijuana industry, addictive.

high steaks gambling

CAMP raids ruined a lot of people’s lives, for decades, even if they never got arrested. If you managed to put together a good year or two, and used the money to put a down-payment on a piece of property, build a house and put in a grow, you probably thought you were doing pretty well. Then, just as your plants approached maturity, helicopters showed up and CAMP smashed your whole operation. As a result of the raid, you lost a whole year’s income. Because you didn’t have the income, you missed your land payment, so you lost your land, the big down-payment you made, all of the annual balloon payments you made before they busted you, and the house you just built. This has happened to hundreds of people here in Humboldt County. Some people have sold the same piece of land, four or five times, to four or five different ambitious young growers, and gotten higher prices each time they sold it because of improvements made by each successive alleged “new owner” before foreclosure.

marijuana helicopter

Cops aren’t the only hazard in this business. Mold, woodrats, mites, deer, elk, gophers and ripoffs can all ruin a crop almost as fast as CAMP. Then there’s fire. Lots of people lose their crop in wildland fires. If the plants themselves don’t burn, they might die because no one could get into the evacuation zone to water them.

fire victim

One friend of mine was doing pretty well. He had acquired land and was building a house. At harvest time, he used the unfinished house as a drying shed for his crop. While drying, some of the weed fell onto a portable propane heater which started a fire that consumed the crop and burned the house to the ground. It devastated him.

destroyed house


Nobody has insurance in this business, and setbacks like this can take years to recover from, if they don’t crush your spirit completely. Some people never recover from setbacks like these. Instead, they fall into alcoholism and/or hard-drug addiction, which become setbacks themselves, which lead to more setbacks. After a few such setbacks, most people are pretty well screwed.

you know youre screwed

Damn near everyone in Humboldt, it seems, is on probation, parole, or has a felony conviction in their past, and our drug addiction rates are through the roof. Far from making us more prosperous as a community, the marijuana industry has become a trap that produces gross income inequity, devastates the natural environment, and unleashes an epidemic of economic refugees while it makes us feel ever more dependent upon it.

weed and money trap

Yes, the black market marijuana industry accounts for a lot of the money that comes into Humboldt County but it also accounts for a lot of the homelessness, poverty and drug addiction we find here too. Like a casino, the War on Drugs makes a few lucky people rich, while it swindles the rest of us with games of chance where the odds are stacked against us, and like a casino, it doesn’t really produce anything, except poverty, social problems, and money. Would you care to place a bet on the future of Humboldt County?

last bets

We Sent an Invitation to “Big Pot”

michele alexander quote

I had a nice chat with Linda Stansberry about “the Greenrush,” and it got me thinking about how ridiculous it is for so-called “Mom and Pop” growers to complain about it. First, it is hilarious to watch people, who made their living, for decades, by evading the law, complain to the Sheriff and ask why he isn’t doing more marijuana eradication. They’ve been completely blindsided. Even they had no idea how big the marijuana industry really was.

attention drug dealers


Second, after all of the wrangling about big grows vs small grows, the terms of the new county medical marijuana ordinance don’t seem to matter nearly so much as the fact that we were the first to adopt one. Because Humboldt County passed the first industry-friendly ordinance, we painted a target on ourselves. While they worked so hard to craft an ordinance that would keep prohibition-era farmers in the game in a legal market, they unwittingly wrote an invitation to every major drug syndicate in the world. We constructed our ordinance with an eye towards keeping out “Big Tobacco,” but we completely forgot about “Big Pot.”

big weed inc

For large-scale black market distributors, Humboldt County’s ordinance offers low-risk vertical integration as well as an opportunity to “go public” when the time is right. Who knew there were so many big fish lurking in the murky waters of the marijuana industry, just waiting to devour Humboldt County. Now we face a feeding frenzy that threatens to displace most of our community. As large distributors take over production, marijuana money will increasingly flow out of the area, while long-term locals fall into poverty and homelessness. Property becomes even more unaffordable, housing even more scarce and good paying jobs go extinct because big distributors cycle through temporary help, none of whom want to live here long-term, rather than hire locals.

hemp temps

Since these operators work the, still strong, global black market, they pay no taxes and ignore regulations, while they suck the rivers dry and level the forest with impunity. They don’t care about this place or the community. They got the invitation and now that they’re here, we’re going to have a hell of a time getting rid of them, especially if we’re not willing to say good bye to the marijuana industry too.

say goodbye


We should have said goodbye to the marijuana industry years ago, back when Anna Hamilton asked us to think about “What’s after pot?” People just couldn’t imagine an “afterlife.” If we had worked as hard to build a diverse economy based on cottage industries, arts and crafts, ecotourism, hospitality, and who knows what else, as we did to expand our marijuana production and lobby for price supporting regulation, we wouldn’t be in this mess. What’s our excuse for not investing our pot money in education, skill building or starting legitimate businesses while we had the chance?

your excuse

Instead, we put all of our eggs in one basket and naively told our Supervisors that we wanted to protect the marijuana industry. So, the Supes passed an ordinance that created another real-estate bubble, and with it, one more opportunity for agents, brokers and appraisers to get obscenely rich, while the rest of us lose our homes, the fish die and our forests become an industrial wasteland. Not only have we failed to protect our livelihood, we’ve insured the destruction of our community and the environment, just because we couldn’t see beyond marijuana, and because we wouldn’t change.

cant see beyond beliefs

Change happens. Either we make change, or change happens to us. We became obsessed with marijuana and money and “marijuana money” as a community, and the more obsessed we got, the more our world shrank. Instead of thinking beyond pot, we decided to become the center of the legal marijuana industry. We asked the Board of Supervisors for an industry-friendly ordinance, because we thought we were the industry. We should be more careful about what we ask for.


Now that we have passed the ordinance, the industry doesn’t really need us anymore, it just wants our land. The people who used to send guys to Garberville to sit in the Humboldt House Inn and buy your weed all day, now send people here to buy property all day, and then send more people and equipment and money to level the forest, sack your homestead and blow-up another mega-grow.

mega grow

Whatever reputation Humboldt County growers have earned, that reputation gets transferred, along with the title of the land, to new owners from all over the world, whether they know how to grow weed or not. One or three (or none) of them may even come out on top of the legal cannabis market, when the dust finally settles, proudly bearing the “Made in Humboldt” label. Several more will quietly amass vast personal fortunes in the these chaotic transitional years. The rest of us, on the other hand, will have to find something else to do. We should have done it years ago, but even at this late stage in the game, the sooner we face it, the better.

before this

A Meeting About “the Greenrush”

green-rush movie

I attended the “Greenrush” meeting Beginnings in Briceland. It turned out to be a great opportunity to see your neighbors, meet some government officials, and watch four hours of your life evaporate away. The Civil Liberties Monitoring Project hosted the meeting to air complaints about the expansion of mega-grow pot plantations in Southern Humboldt, and because those folks up in Bridgeville got to have a meeting about it, so we had to have one too.


Of course, the mega-grow plantation owners didn’t come to the meeting. They didn’t send a manager, or even a spokesperson. They were too busy growing pot, and making money, to care. Instead, it was all the people who have been complaining about them, including yours truly, as well as 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell, Undersheriff Honsal from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department, Adona White of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Jane Arnold from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Senior Planner from the Humboldt County Planning Dept, Steve Lazar.

briceland greenrush meeting

It’s still weird to hear pot growers demanding stricter enforcement and more surveillance, but that’s what I heard. People were outraged that the Sheriff wasn’t busting these giant grows we can all see on Google Earth, when they used to look at every ridge in the county, every year, with a magnifying glass and a fine-toothed comb, pulling-up every single pot plant they saw. Undersheriff Honsel told us that since the Feds stopped picking up the tab, the Sheriff doesn’t do much marijuana eradication anymore.

marijuana eradication

Instead, Honsel referred us to the people sitting at the table beside him, Adona White from NCRWQCB, Jane Arnold from Fish and Wildlife, and Steve Lazar from the Planning Dept, and told us that they would lead the enforcement of the new regulations. All of the people from the various state and county agencies kept telling us, “We’d love to bust these bad guys, but we need you to file complaints against them first. Then we’ll send them a letter.”

county land use ordinance

“Oh great, a letter.” we all thought. Our neighbors carry machine guns and run international organized crime syndicates, and you are going to send them a letter. We know how mobsters work. Mobsters bribe public officials, but they kill informants. All of our state and county agencies would love to start negotiating with these new “clients,” if they haven’t already, and they’re happy to do it over our dead bodies. They can’t wait to try out these new shakedowns, I mean “regulations,” and they love to let the public do their legwork.


In order to make sense of this whole legalization process, you need to understand what politicians mean when they talk about “a well-regulated industry.” They don’t mean “regulated in such a way as to protect the environment, provide workers with a safe workplace, and insure regional economic stability.” When a government official talks about “a well regulated industry” he or she means that all of the bribes and payoffs that used to get paid under the table, have now been institutionalized as above-board fees and penalties.

rules and regulations marked on rubber stamp


As the spectre of legalization threatened to expose the corruption at the core of our local economy, the Board of Supervisors worked furiously fast to codify new licensing and fee structures to keep the economic ball rolling. Because Humboldt County acted so quickly to adopt these new regulations, big growers everywhere now know that they can grow big here, and if the county comes after them, they’ll send a letter, instead of 60 trigger-happy cops.

trigger happy cops

These new regulations have made Humboldt County look appetizing to a whole new category of speculators, gamblers, and weasels working both sides of the law. They pay ridiculous prices for real estate and then totally blow it up with clear-cuts, massive water-sucking light-dep operations, loud generators, bright lights and too much truck traffic. That’s what we mean by “Greenrush.”

big grow

The forest has become an unregulated industrial zone as operators race to suck the last gulps from the teat of prohibition while they position themselves to come out on top in the legal market. The stakes are high. No pun intended. The competition for domination of the emerging legal cannabis market is fierce, and Humboldt County has become the battlefield.


That’s why it looks like a war zone around here. Our hillsides are cratered by pot plants instead of bomb blasts, massive convoys of dump trucks, cement mixers and earth-moving equipment crisscross our watersheds while desperate refugees survive in make-shift camps. The War on Drugs has given us all PTSD, and now that the government has finally conceded defeat, growers have gone on the offensive, and they’re fighting each other for market-share. This last battle in the War on Drugs may be the most deadly yet for Humboldt County.

dead bodies battlefield

At the meeting, they told us that they can only work with the growers who want to come into compliance. At the moment, about 2% of cannabis growers are actively working towards compliance, which means that about 98% of the marijuana growers in Humboldt County continue to supply a robust nationwide black market that doesn’t take names, ask for licenses or collect taxes. Undersheriff Honsell told us that most Humboldt County growers grow for the black market because: “That’s where the money is.” Duh!

willie sutter quote

Essentially, they told us that as long as the black market for marijuana remains profitable, we should expect the unregulated destruction in the forest to continue, and accelerate. In the meantime, the Board of Supervisors has proposed a new excise tax on every licensed pound of legally compliant medical cannabis, just to make sure that those cut-and-run greenrushers get a little more time to plunder the forest, while licensed legal growers pick up the tab.

pick up the tab1

They told us to be patient. In five years or so, this will all be over. By then, everyone will be in compliance and there won’t be any more black market. That’s what they told us. They didn’t bother to tell us that all of the salmon would be dead in five years, along with the local cottage cannabis industry, poof, gone, extinct forever. They didn’t tell us that real estate agents are getting fat as ticks off of this ruse, right now, by inviting every drug dealer in the country to come here to ruin the community, saw down the forest and suck the rivers dry. “Please be patient,” they said. “In five years, it will all be over.”

it will all be over soon

Yeah, that’s what we’re afraid of.

horror john carpenter