I finally got to see Murder Mountain, the Netflix docudrama miniseries about the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez and the subsequent recovery of his body by the “Alder Point 8.” The film crew was in town for most of last year putting it together, and they hired me off the street to act in it, so of course I was excited to see myself on TV.
I enjoyed Murder Mountain. I thought they did a great job, and it includes some of the best images of Southern Humboldt’s natural beauty that I’ve ever seen. The series seemed quite slow getting started. I’m sure they could have told the story in two hours, and they included quite a lot of really boring footage of cannabis farms, but they also included lot about this community and it’s history. The series paints a broad portrait of Southern Humboldt, and a cannabis industry in transition, as the backdrop for the Garrett Rodriquez story. Every picture hides much more than it shows, but I am impressed by how deeply they explored this community and how well they told the story. I thought they told it accurately, with sensitivity and more than enough context. Most of the people I watched Murder Mountain with also seemed favorably impressed.
Of course, anytime anyone writes or produces media about the ugly sordid shit that really goes on around here, the knee-jerk reaction of locals is: “How dare those ‘yellow journalist’ outsiders come here to tell sensationalized stories about the bad stuff that happens around here!” According to these people, no one, except people born and raised here, have the right to report on anything that happens here, but when you ask those truly local locals, they all tell the same story: “It’s beautiful here. The people are cool, and everything is groovy. Now mind your own business!” Whether it’s a piece of investigative journalism about human sex trafficking, an expose about environmental destruction wrought by the marijuana industry, or my opinion column, for that matter, whether or not they’ve read it or seen it, a lot of people around here will automatically tell you that it is all just “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.”
It surprised me that I didn’t hear more of that about Murder Mountain. I think a lot of people actually recognized that the producers of Murder Mountain went out of their way to get the story straight, and to present it in context. Murder Mountain sure doesn’t make us look good, but it tells the truth. Murder Mountain shows us a side of Southern Humboldt that usually remains hidden, and that no one around here wants to face, in a way that is hard to deny.
This time, it’s the Sheriff’s Department that is crying foul, and warning us about “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.” They feel they were misrepresented in Murder Mountain. They claim that the filmmakers tricked them into believing that the show was going to be about the marijuana industry, not about Garrett Rodriquez.
Sorry guys. I don’t buy it. I will admit that Murder Mountain does not make the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department look good, but it’s the fact that Garrett Rodriquez’s murderer remains at large despite the community’s heroic efforts to recover his body, that casts a pall over the HCSD, not the documentary treatment. More than anyone else, Sheriff Honsal and his deputies, who must have all signed release forms, should know that anything you say, in front of a camera, with a microphone hidden in your shirt, will be recorded and used against you in the court of public opinion. If Murder Mountain embarrasses the HCSD, it’s not because of what they said on camera, it’s because of what they failed to do when they weren’t.
We should also note, however, that the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez, or the dozens of other people who have gone missing, or been found murdered here in Humboldt County, did not prompt much public outcry, locally. We didn’t have rooms full of angry citizens demanding that the HCSD get to the bottom of this prolonged rash of cannabis industry related homicides and disappearances that happen around here all the time. We didn’t have any public meetings about that problem at all.
No, it wasn’t until a skinny kid from Fortuna shimmied underneath a locked security door and stole some bongs from a head-shop in town, that the folks of Southern Humboldt got up off their asses and filled the gymnasium of the Redway School. Those angry townsfolk didn’t complain about unsolved murders or disappearances in the hills, they complained about poor people smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and generally looking ugly in front of their businesses in town, so you can’t completely blame the Sheriff’s Department for prioritizing their resources accordingly.
Despite all of the self-delusional happy-talk we like to tell ourselves about our community and the cannabis industry, Murder Mountain offers us an honest mirror that reveals how our community looks to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it’s not such a pretty picture, but that’s not the photographer’s fault.
I was reminded recently of a peculiar event that took place at the Mateel Community Center a couple of years ago called the “Community Values Conference.” A group of cannabis entrepreneurs wanted to use the term “SoHum Community Values” as a marketing tool to promote and distinguish their fine cannabis products. I attended to remind them that, while they still had a great concert hall, SoHum offers very little in terms of community services.
We had, and have, an extreme housing shortage in SoHum, but we have no shelter or services for people without housing. At the time, we had a rash of brutal assaults, mostly against defenseless elderly disabled men who had nowhere to go, and local social media sites dripped with hatred and vitriol aimed at our unhoused population. I wanted to see what kind of values statement the people whose kids beat a helpless old man into a coma and left him lying on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood could come up with.
Besides that, we have several homicides every year, where young people come here to work, but instead, someone kills them and buries them in the woods. Those bodies are rarely found. Arrests and convictions are much rarer still, but law enforcement continues to find egregious environmental destruction at grow sites all over SoHum. People around here don’t bat an eyelash about any of it. If not human life and the natural environment, one has to wonder, what do these people actually value?
At the event, we worked through a series of exercises where we pulled a bunch of positive sounding platitudes out of our asses and reassembled them, according to their popularity, into statements of incomprehensible happy-talk. I can’t recall any of these statements, but I do remember that they seemed quite unmemorable at the time. Still, I think I recognize what the organizers of this event hoped to highlight about their community, and why they might think it would be good for business.
I say “their” community, because of the difference between SoHum’s cannabis growers’ community, and the SoHum community at large. SoHum, as a whole, remains as alienated and fractured as any rural American community, and we’re not likely to agree on much, including values. However, one segment of our community enjoys a rare degree of acceptance and comradery. For cannabis growers, SoHum is a very special place.
In most of the country, cannabis growers tend to live very isolated lives. Because of the stiff criminal penalties for commercial cannabis cultivation, growers have to be very careful about who they allow into their lives. If you grow weed in Kansas, you might not know another grower. They don’t have highly specialized garden supply stores in Ohio, at least not in my town, and you couldn’t just drive across town to pick up a tray of rooted clones. If you grow pot almost anywhere else in the country, you do it all yourself, and you do it all alone, and the more you grow, the more isolating it becomes.
I didn’t know anyone else who grew their own weed until I started working with Mass Cann, where I met a number of other, also very isolated, growers. We compared product and talked about cannabis incessantly. It felt great to meet kindred spirits and I learned a lot about growing weed that way. When I got here, my background and interest in cannabis helped me make friends and find employment. That doesn’t really happen anywhere else, at least it didn’t back then. Here in SoHum, cannabis unites us and brings us together, and that’s a rare and powerful thing.
Over time however, this cannabis-centric culture developed it’s own character, but it also developed a mythology about itself. During the War on Drugs, it was important to portray growers sympathetically, in order to garner public support for their cause. We cultivated the myth of “mom and pop,” the original humble hippie growers, but in reality, secrecy shrouded the whole industry, and we ignored, and accepted, a lot of bad behavior in our own community. We learned to turn a blind eye and keep our mouths shut about the dark side of the industry and what happens here.
Also, people began to conflate the value of cannabis to society with the price of cannabis on the black market. People started to believe that growing cannabis didn’t just pay better than other kinds of work, but that it was worth more. In reality, the value of cannabis to society depends on it being cheap for the consumer. Paradoxically, the more cannabis costs, the less valuable it is, and the less benefit people derive from it. Of course, the quality of our cannabis here in SoHum is so legendary that no one could possible exaggerate it further, but we will continue to try. All of this tends to inflate, in our own minds, the value of what we do here.
In this way, our shared passion for cannabis, coupled with the industry’s culture of secrecy and our own need for acceptance, skewed our perception of reality. We learned to ignore what was really happening around here, and started to believe our own bullshit propaganda. We also forgot that the community of cannabis growers is not the community of SoHum, and that the community of SoHum is not society at large. We’ve lived in this bubble of unreality for a long time, because cannabis growers had real money, and anyone who wanted any of it had to suck up to them and tell them what they want to hear.
Today however, google Earth deprives growers of their secrecy while legalization slashes their income. Growers can no longer afford their own reality, and the people around them are less likely to afford it to them. The bubble of unreality is collapsing. There is certainly a value to community, and it is something to celebrate, but an insulated community can lose touch with reality, and money is the best insulation in that regard. I think it’s really tragic that cannabis culture here in SoHum has been so warped by the dynamics of the War on Drugs. You could call it the “fog of war.” The cannabis community remains reluctant to face reality here in SoHum, and because of that we will likely endure a very difficult transition to legalization.
I hear a lot of people talk about marketing cannabis in the same way they market wine. They talk about this idea very seriously, and seem bent on betting their futures on this dream of turning Humboldt County into something like Napa County Wine Country for upscale, connoisseur grade, cannabis. This strikes me as a very foolhardy gamble. It makes me wonder “How do people who grow this good of weed not get high enough to realize how stupid of an idea this is?” There is a big difference between cannabis and fine wine. The only thing they share, really, is the inflated price tag.
First, you need to remind yourself what wine is. At it’s root, wine is what happens when ripe fruit turns sour. You don’t have wine unless you have more fruit than you can eat before it goes bad, so wine is an intoxicating byproduct of great abundance. That kind of abundance does not occur often naturally. Some hunter-gatherer cultures enjoy wine as part of an annual festival at the end of summer, if they have a native species that produces an abundance of fermentable fruit. They may drink heavily and stumble around in drunken song for a week, celebrating the abundance of nature, if the bounty of nature allows it, but they will not try to save or bottle the wine and they will not drink at all for the rest of the year. That’s native culture, not wine culture.
Wine still celebrates abundance, but not natural abundance. Wine celebrates the abundance of tamed land, where the community of life has been evicted, to make way for armies of vines which serve only their human master. Wine celebrates the abundance that comes from conquering the land and enslaving it. Wine celebrates property, mastery and dominion over the land, and it symbolizes the abundance they produce.
The aristocracy in France elevated the expression of this kind of abundance to a high art, making French wine and French food the envy of the world. The French aristocracy took tremendous pride in their cuisine and their wine, and developed very high standards for all of it. The peasants however, who produced all of this abundance by their hard work, tending to those vines and working the farms, often went hungry. Eventually, the peasants got sick of it. They formed angry mobs and they cut all of the aristocrats’ heads off. Today, France is a democratic nation and the French people enjoy a high standard of living. They still make excellent wine and produce many delicacies which hearken back to those extravagant days of unbridled indulgence.
Before we start trying to become the new Napa, we shouldn’t forget that Napa is trying to become the new Bordeaux, France. That’s why they work so hard at the whole gourmet food thing, along with the wine, and the elegant manor lifestyle. In Napa, they celebrate the abundance of capitalism in this newly conquered and enslaved land. In a sense, they compete with King Louis the XIV, in the field of self-indulgent opulence. I do not really see that as a worthy goal. To me, as a pot smoker, it sounds abhorrent, and I identify more with the angry mobs of peasants.
Now smoke a joint and remember what cannabis is. Cannabis is a natural herb that contains a revolutionary psychedelic, like LSD, only much milder. Cannabis alters our consciousness in a way that allows us to feel a connection to the whole of life. Cannabis changes how we see the world and how we perceive our place in it. Cannabis consciousness is about love, creativity, equality and the connection between all living things. Cannabis consciousness allows us to share the burden, the joy and the wonder of life, with all of life, through a kind of communion with the plant world.
Cannabis consciousness celebrates life in the power of a river and the strength of a bear. Cannabis consciousness respects diversity and demands equality. Cannabis consciousness respects nature and understands ecology implicitly. Cannabis consciousness inspires creativity and the impulse to play. Cannabis consciousness inspires an appreciation for food, not an extravagant palette, but a humble appreciation for all food, and the pleasure of eating. Cannabis consciousness encourages communication and helps resolve differences.
Cannabis consciousness looks for ways to reduce stress and minimize work through equality and cooperation. Cannabis consciousness has no use for hierarchies, authority figures or empires. Cannabis consciousness looks for quality in expressions of insight and ecstatic emotion through music and art. Cannabis consciousness sees abundance in the forest, but cannabis consciousness has no desire to conquer or enslave it, because cannabis consciousness knows that the natural world is family, and that we are all one.
Cannabis consciousness looks at a vineyard and sees poverty, slavery, toil and ugliness, not abundance. Cannabis consciousness sees right through all of the fancy packaging and bullshit hype. Cannabis consciousness sees right through it all and recognizes this upscale marketing ploy as just another ripoff, and just another attempt to conquer and enslave nature. Cannabis consciousness inspires revolutionaries and gives them the strength to fight. Cannabis is the peoples herb! It is not some frivolous indulgence for the bourgeois.
Cannabis culture is nothing like wine culture. The ideals of cannabis culture are different. The aesthetics of cannabis culture are different and the social dynamics of cannabis culture are different. Cannabis culture and wine culture are as different as night and day and cannabis consciousness recognizes that alcohol culture, wine culture, is a death cult.
Any bright future for humanity belongs to cannabis culture and depends on cannabis consciousness. Cannabis will not remain our slave any longer. Forget the wine model and the dead end culture of alcohol. Follow cannabis consciousness to a new ideal, a new aesthetic, and a new culture that’s not based on conquest and slavery, but instead based on love and respect for the whole of life. Regardless of how frightening and economically uncertain the future appears right now, that’s the only future worth betting your life on, really.
For a place that’s been so defined by the War on Drugs, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by how deeply the people of Humboldt County have internalized the insanity of the Drug War. It was only a couple years after the helicopters stopped persecuting the pot farmers, that all of the growers came to a town meeting in Redway to demand that the County Sheriff send more cops down here to address our heroin and meth problem. They asked the same cops, who they knew were corrupt, and had terrorized their whole community for decades, the same cops who raided their homes and held their children at gunpoint, the same cops who tortured non-violent protesters by swabbing pepper-spray directly into their eyes, to do something about the fact that their own kids now use heroin and meth.
You’d think they’d realize that if the National Guard and 30 years of CAMP couldn’t stop them from growing weed, no amount of cops are ever going to stop their kids from shooting heroin. Besides that, after seeing so many of their neighbors, friends, family members and even themselves, busted, jailed and labeled felons because they grew, used or carried cannabis, you’d think they might not be so quick to demand the same violence against their own children, just because they prefer to use a different substance. You might think so, but you’d be wrong, because the insanity of the War on Drugs lives on in the minds of it’s victims.
Pot farmers have gotten used to deflecting. They like to say: “I’m just a Mom and Pop grower trying to put a new pair of tires on my old truck. Why don’t you go after the diesel grows, the guerrilla grows on public land or the big mountaintop removal grows, instead of me?” They deflect attention away from what they did, and on to people who do something worse, but even if you have a big diesel mountaintop removal grow on public land, you can still say: “Why don’t you go after heroin and meth, instead of me?” Now that pot is legal, and growers get abatement letters about code violations instead of paramilitary police raids, they still scream: “Why don’t you go after heroin and meth?” Cannabis criminals constantly scapegoat the hard drug industry to make their crimes seem less heinous by comparison.
Alcoholics do the same thing. Half of the people in Humboldt County have an alcohol problem, and too many of them were born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol is, by far, much more of a menace to our community than heroin and meth combined, but you can have a problem with alcohol, and your family and friends will still love you, your boss won’t fire you, and you can still make the mortgage payment, because alcohol is legal, cheap and accepted by society. As long as you keep your shit together, you can kill yourself slowly with alcohol, and call it a normal American life. Still, alcoholics will say: “Sure I drink, and I got a couple of DUIs, but that’s nothing compared to people who shoot heroin and meth. Why don’t you go after heroin and meth instead of harassing people like me?”
I saw this at a Eureka City Council meeting last July. Of three individuals who stood to testify against our local harm-reduction needle exchange program, two of them wore clothing that advertised other drugs, while they testified. One guy wore a long-sleeve t-shirt bearing the logo of a local brewery, with the words “Never Straight” in big letters down both sleeves. That strikes me as either the slogan of a radical queer separatist group, or an alcoholic lifestyle. Since the shirt also proclaimed the name of a local brewery on the front and back, I assume the latter. He also had the bulbous red nose and beer belly to go with it. Wearing that shirt, he testified that syringe exchange programs, have turned us into a bunch of “drug addicted Peter Pans,” and demanded that the City of Eureka close down HACHR, a local charity that works to reduce the harm associated with drug use by providing clean syringes and overdose prevention kits.
Another guy who testified to end this program wore a green hoodie. On the back, a design featured a human skull, surrounded by a wreath of cannabis leaves with the words “Humboldt County” loudly emblazoned on it. Since cannabis has never killed anyone, I can only assume that the skull refers to the dozens of people who met a premature death in the black market marijuana industry here in Humboldt County. Those are the only deaths I know of linked to both cannabis and Humboldt County, and we have plenty of those. Just a couple of weeks ago, someone left two of them in an SUV at the end of my road and set it on fire. I don’t know if the design intended to celebrate this kind of violence or to commemorate it, in the way that other war veterans commemorate the terrible wars they’ve fought in. Either way, the design speaks to the human toll of the War on Drugs. Apparently, he hadn’t looked carefully at it before he put it on to go address the city council.
Everyone, it seems, feels the need to scapegoat someone who does something they think is worse than whatever it is that they do. Then they demand harsh punishment for the scapegoat, and when the problem gets worse, they demand even more harsh punishment for the scapegoat. That’s how it goes with prohibition, the more cops you throw at it, the more money there is to be made from it, and the more of it you see on the streets. It’s a vicious cycle that plays out again and again, and it works with any drug.
Since cops can no longer go after people for weed, they focus on heroin and meth. Now that cops focus on heroin and meth, we see an explosion in heroin and meth use, so we ask the cops to focus even more attention on heroin and meth and the problem gets worse. It’s crazy, and it’s a craziness that destroys our community while it makes cops and drug dealers filthy rich. Those are our kids who use these drugs, and it’s our money that pays for all of this craziness. You’d think we would have learned our lesson by now. You’d think.
The Southern Humboldt Health Care District wants to know what I think of their plans for our local hospital. They sent me a survey to fill out, and when I didn’t respond, they sent another, reminding me that I had not responded to their previous inquiry. I haven’t responded to that one either. I suspect they want to know how I voted in the last election, and how I’m inclined to vote in this one, so they can decide whether to cut me out of the district or not. Last year Blocksburg voters voted more than 2 to 1 against the hospital tax. This year, Blocksburg voters, and land-owners, have been excised from the health-care district, and the potential tax.
Personally, just thinking about health-care feels like stepping into the La Brea Tar Pits. I’d rather not think about it at all, until, God forbid, someday I get stuck in it, after which I expect to struggle futilely, until death becomes my only escape. I don’t want to think about health-care; I want to know how to avoid the health-care system entirely because I know I’m fucked if I ever need it.
That’s how it is for most people around here. We can’t afford health-care, because the bills quickly become even more debilitating than the disease. Health-care in America is a dark, sticky pit full of twisted logic, untenable compromises, and vicious, heartless greed, dusted with a thin layer of boring-as-fuck. I can’t even pay attention to the subject of health-care, let alone afford it, and I am disinclined to throw any more of my money into that pit. Apparently, a lot of people around here feel the same way, and with good reason, I think.
First, we should never forget that the health-care system in the US was not designed to promote health, or even to treat disease. Our health-care system was designed to make money. Our health-care system has been so successful in this regard, that it has blossomed into a central pillar of our economy. Unfortunately, the success of our health-care system lies in it’s coercive ability to extract absurdly high fees from people, at the very moment when they are most vulnerable.
Because of this, our current health-care system has become both a major source of wealth and a major source of poverty here in the United States. The system creates wealth for health-care providers, hospital administrators, insurance companies and their share-holders, while it creates poverty for the unfortunate people who chose any other career path, but find themselves in need of medical services.
As health-care professionals become more enriched by this system, they find that they tire quickly of the time they must spend with poor sick people, and they start looking for ways to insulate themselves from us. They often move to more affluent neighborhoods, where they can charge even more for their services. Eventually, that leads to the extreme situation that we face here in SoHum. We have a building that looks like a hospital, but the only doctor there probably just flew in for his shift at the ER, and he has no intention of providing services to anyone, except to offer directions to the nearest real hospital, in Fortuna, where our closest local doctors actually live.
We can’t even convince a hospital administrator to live here, no matter how much we pay them. When Harry Jasper worked here, he was probably the highest paid man in SoHum who didn’t carry a gun, but we had to pay him an extra $30,000 a year, as a housing allowance, so that his family could live in a nicer community, and his kids would not have to associate with ours. No wonder it didn’t last.
Without a doctor, a hospital is just an expensive building full of expensive equipment and overpaid people with nothing to do. Even with a doctor, that’s pretty much what we have here in Garberville, because most people who live here already know that all they will do for you in Garberville is send you to Fortuna, and stick you with a fat bill.
If you live in Garberville, and you have a heart-attack, there’s a chance they could save your life at Jerald Phelps Hospital, because they have a defibrillator and know how to use it. For almost anyone else, you might as well forget about our local hospital because all you are likely to get from them is a fat bill on your way to another fat bill, so the hospital offers very little value, as a health-care provider, to the people here in SoHum.
On the other hand, the illusion of a hospital has an important role in propping-up property values. Prospective real-estate buyers notice signs pointing to a hospital, and the building itself. These features make many prospective buyers feel more secure about purchasing land in such a remote place. Few of them actually check to see if the hospital has a real doctor. Because of this, our mostly useless hospital mostly benefits real-estate agents looking to pad their commissions, and land-owners looking to sell-out. Fuck them!
The sooner our real-estate bloodsuckers move on to greener pastures, the better, and sell-out dope yuppies will take whatever they can get for their land now that the black market gravy train has left the station. For the rest of us, I think we should work on becoming the kind of community where a good doctor might want to live, because unless we can convince a good doctor to move here and open a practice, we might as well get used to driving to Fortuna to see one.
We aren’t going to attract a good doctor by waving our black market profits at them, even if we still had them to wave, and we aren’t going to get a good doctor by voting for a new tax. The only way we are going to get a good doctor in SoHum is by being better neighbors. If we can’t do that, we might as well save our money.