I went to the Supes Meeting last Monday to watch them make sausage. It wasn’t pretty. I applaud Steve Lazar and staff at the Planning Department for coming up with a draft medical marijuana land use ordinance that offered significant environmental protections. I especially liked one provision that limited the location of new licensed grows to within one mile of a paved county road. That provision would have done a lot to protect wildlife and prevent further habitat fragmentation.
Fragmentation threatens endangered fishers, and other creatures who depend on deep forest habitat. Sediment from the hundreds of miles of poorly maintained dirt roads that criss-cross Southern Humboldt severely impact watercourses and threaten endangered salmon. Black market growers generally prefer to be as far from the pavement as possible, and many of our largest grows have ten miles or more of shoddy, poorly maintained, dirt road between them and the nearest county road. Unfortunately, the one mile limitation got struck from the ordinance almost immediately.
An important provision about water forbearance made it to the final ordinance, so licensed growers will have to collect and store enough water for the entire growing season before May 15, and they will not be permitted to use generators or artificial lights. I know I’m sick of the generators and the lights, and I sure won’t miss them. Also language made it into the ordinance that prohibits new grows on timber land, so at least there’s that.
The industry turned out to lobby for larger grow sizes, and largely got them. Robert “Woods” Sutherland of HUMMAPS advocated for a 2,000 sq ft limit for the basic permit, arguing that 2,000 sq ft was as much as a couple working together could handle, but other, mostly younger growers insisted they could handle much larger grows.
On one hand, it cheered me to see so many ambitious young people eager to invest their futures in this fledgling industry. On the other hand, not many of them looked like farmers to me. Woods looks like a pot farmer, and so does Kristin Nevidal. I saw a couple of other guys in feed-caps who looked like they could handle a shovel, but who were all of those women with the hairdos and the makeup and the fingernails? They don’t work on no farm.
Don’t get me wrong, I want the legal cannabis industry to thrive, and I even want it to thrive here, to the degree that it doesn’t negatively impact natural habitat. I don’t fault growers for advocating for larger grow sizes. No one knows what the market for legal cannabis will look like in five years, let alone ten, so it’s hard to know what it will take to remain competitive in this business in the future. Those folks are setting out on treacherous uncharted waters, and I hope they succeed. I think the Supes want them to succeed too, because they approved grows up to 5,000 sq ft with a basic permit.
OK, like it or not, we’ve got an ordinance, that goes into effect in 2018, that, so far, only about 300, of an estimated 8,400 growers have even expressed interest in. Try as we might, I don’t think we can regulate our way out of this mess, and ultimately, I doubt this ordinance will have much impact.
Contrary to Luke Bruner’s declaration that “The Drug War is over,” over 800,000 people were arrested for marijuana across the country last year and at least five times that many people had their pot confiscated by police, customs, airport security etc. The insane policy of prohibition that gave rise to our vigorous black market marijuana industry remains in effect at the federal level, and in 45 other states. I expect black market growers to continue to serve those markets so long as they remain profitable, and so I expect the unregulated environmental destruction associated with the black market marijuana industry to continue, and even worsen, despite this new ordinance.
Ultimately, the things that made Humboldt County attractive to black market growers, should make this place noncompetitive in the legal market. Like I said before, most of our big grows are located a long way down a dirt road, that’s a long way down a winding county road, that’s at least 100 miles from the nearest interstate. The soil there sucks, so you have to truck in all of your topsoil. Most of the land is way too steep to use, covered with trees, and prone to fire and earthquake. Also, your cell phone won’t work there. How long does pot have to be legal before people realize how crazy this is?
Sure, the Humboldt name might mean something to cannabis consumers, probably not as much as the name “Marley,” “Willie Nelson” or even “Indo,” but something. Because of the black market marijuana industry, we have a lot of the talent and infrastructure necessary to support the legal cannabis industry, but talent and technology are mobile. What remains here is the remote location, bad roads, expensive gas and poor soil. I can see how that makes the pot we grow here more expensive, but I don’t see how it makes it better.