I see that the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research will hold a conference to discuss the “impacts” of the Netflix mini-series Murder Mountain on Humboldt County. If you didn’t already know that the HIIMR exists purely to white-wash the marijuana industry, this should convince you. The six-part docudrama, Murder Mountain tells the story of Garrett Rodriquez, who’s young life was snuffed-out on a marijuana farm in the Rancho Sequoia subdivision near Alder Point, and the remarkable recovery of his body by the, now infamous, “Alder Point 8.”
Locals have called the Rancho Sequoia subdivision “Murder Mountain” for as long as I’ve lived here. That maze of ten-acre parcels, littered with burned out cars, ramshackle shacks, and bullet riddled “No Trespassing” signs held became known as “Murder Mountain” because the only time you heard about Rancho Sequoia was on the news, when someone got killed there, and it happened often enough that you couldn’t help but notice.
I enjoyed the TV series, Murder Mountain. I’m sure I never would have watched it, except for the fact that I played one of the “Alder Point 8” in the fuzzy recreation scenes. Still, I live here in SoHum, and I think they portrayed our community pretty fairly, even sympathetically. I thought the filmmakers gave our community the benefit of the doubt whenever they could, but now we step forward, ourselves, to remove the last veil.
The fact that people here, especially people in the marijuana industry, have gotten much more upset about the TV series, Murder Mountain, than they ever did about the disappearance and murder of Garrett Rodriquez, speaks volumes about the marijuana industry, and our community. The very fact that the HIIMR will hold a conference to discuss the impacts of the TV series, instead of a conference on the impacts of the ongoing legacy of violence within the marijuana industry, plainly and chillingly demonstrates the callous narcissism of Humboldt’s marijuana industry, reflected in the HIIMR.
Garrett Rodriquez was neither the first, nor the last, worker murdered on a Southern Humboldt pot farm. At least four people, reported to have been working in the marijuana industry, were murdered in Southern Humboldt in 2018 alone. None of those murders have been solved. That doesn’t count the missing persons cases, solved SoHum murders, murders in other parts of the county, or murders that happened before or since 2018. There are a lot of Garrett Rodriquezes out there, and potentially many more Murder Mountains to come.
The HIIMR should take note: Dead people count as measurable impacts. So do bereaved families, widows, and orphans. Murderers that walk our streets with impunity impact our community. The poisonous relationship between our community and law enforcement impacts our community. A culture that treats Drug War refugees and honest working people as disposable, impacts our community. Trauma, desensitization and learned indifference to violence resulting from overexposure, impacts our community. Those are just a few of the ways that violence within the marijuana industry impacts our community.
By comparison, no one died making Murder Mountain, and nobody killed anyone to see it. I can attest to the fact that everyone who worked on Murder Mountain got paid promptly and fairly. That’s more than I can say about the marijuana industry. How can we possibly measure the minuscule impacts of a TV show, against the unstudied background of marijuana related violence in our community.
Studying the real violence and murder in the marijuana industry might help us put Murder Mountain into perspective. TV shows like Murder Mountain amount to little more than a sidebar in the long story of how the marijuana industry made murder commonplace in our community and fueled our notoriety for it.
Studying the impacts of real violence and murder within the marijuana industry could greatly benefit our community. We might even find a way to protect workers, save lives and rehabilitate the industry. Any cultural change begins with awareness, and making our community aware of the real impacts of the violence that we have come to accept as normal, just might shock us enough to bring us to our senses.
As a community, we have brushed too many Garrett Rodriquezes under the rug. Instead, we save our indignation for anyone who dares to criticize the marijuana industry, regardless of how accurately. Somehow, in our community, we have come to care more about venerating the mythology of Humboldt County’s marijuana industry than we do about the lives of its victims, or the violence it brings to our community. The high rate of violence in this community, and the indifference we show to it, still amazes me, and it’s uglier than anything we see in Murder Mountain.
Instead of whining about what those mean filmmakers did to us with their TV show, perhaps we should recognize Murder Mountain as the wake-up call we needed.
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.
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.
At long last, I can buy marijuana, legally, here in California. I don’t need a note from my doctor, and I don’t have to pretend to be sick. I can walk into a store, admire their selection of fine cannabis products, and if I have enough money, and I can prove that I’m over 21 years of age, I can buy my choice of them, without having to look over my shoulder to see if there’s a cop around. I’ve waited a really long time for this. I’ve been dreaming of this day since 1978, and working for it since 1988, but I guess I’ll have to wait a few more days.
I had hoped that I would not have to drive far to visit one of these new recreational cannabis retailers on January 1st. People around here like to call Southern Humboldt County “the Heart of the Emerald Triangle,” but unfortunately, the two venders seeking retail recreational cannabis licenses in Southern Humboldt are still not quite open for business. When I inquired of the Humboldt County Cannabis Chamber of Commerce as to where I could find the nearest recreational cannabis retailer in my area, they refered me to a list compiled by Leafly.com, listing all of the cannabis retailers in the state that have registered with them to be open on January 1st.
I only found one retailer on that list in Humboldt County, EcoCann in Oldtown Eureka. I had never heard of them before, but a couple of days later, I found their circular in the North Coast Journal, offering preroll joints for one dollar, one per customer, with coupon. It’s about 80 miles from our place in Ettersburg to Oldtown, a long way to drive, and a lot of money in gas for a one dollar joint, especially considering that all of my friends and neighbors have tons of weed, and I can hardly go to town without someone giving a wad of buds for free.
Still, I want to buy weed, legally, in a licensed store. Well, not exactly weed, but I want to buy some cannabis products. I have weed. Everyone I know has weed. If I was out of weed, I would buy weed in the store. Hell, if I was out of weed, I would’ve driven to the store on New Years Eve and camped out overnight so that I could be their first customer on New Year’s Day, but I’ve got plenty of weed, so it can wait a few more days until we need to make a trip up North.
On Jan 5, I have an appointment in Trinidad to record a couple of segments for my KMUD radio show: Monday Morning Magazine. I think I’ll visit the dispensary then, and turn my visit to EcoCann into a segment as well. Celebrating legal cannabis will be the cover story of the show, which will air on KMUD (streaming and archived at www.kmud.org) on January 8, from 7-9am, about the time this post drops on LoCO. We will talk a lot about this new world we call legalization with a live panel of local entrepreneurs who have set sail to discover it, including Graham Shaw, Holly Carter, Kevin Jodrey and Lelehnia Dubois.
I’m really excited about this. I feel like a kid anticipating his first trip to the candy store. It’s been years since I had a medical recommendation, and when I did go to the trouble of getting a medical recommendation, it was only because I had shitloads of weed, and felt I needed the legal protection. Once, at Wonderland Nursery in Redway, I used my medical marijuana card to buy a bottle of Golden Dragon Medicinal Syrup for my mom, who has Parkinson’s disease, but other than that, I’ve never shopped for cannabis at a dispensary before.
The circular from EcoCann tells me they have quite a few strains of fresh cannabis flower for sale, and the pictures of the buds look pretty nice, but I’ve got plenty of flowers. Right now, I’m more interested in some of the new, value added, cannabis products that you only find at a a legal dispensary. Last year, I sent my mother a box of chocolates from the Humboldt Chocolate Company behind the gazebo in Oldtown. My mother, naturally, assumed that anything that had “Humboldt” in the name, must be infused with cannabis, and that’s what she told her friends, when she shared those, very delicious, but non-medicated, truffles with them. Of course, they all thought they got high from them. I would like to give my mother some chocolates that really will get her and her friends high, and I’ll bet they have them at EcoCann.
For myself, I’d like to find a way to ingest cannabis that doesn’t harsh my vocal chords as much as smoking, and that doesn’t involve sugar, and I’m sure my girlfriend would appreciate it if I didn’t stink the house up with smoke so much. I might want to try a vape pen, and I’ve heard great things about a cannabis throat spray.
I still find it hard to believe that I no longer have to feel paranoid about carrying weed (but I probably will, for the rest of my life), and I can go to a licensed store to buy it, even if it takes two hours to get there. So much has changed in forty rears, mostly for the worst, but this change is long overdue. Really, it’s about time.
Next month, recreational cannabis becomes legal in California, and Californians will no longer have to pretend to be sick to legally grow their own weed, or shop at a dispensary. That’s going to be a big day, and I intend to celebrate it. Here in Humboldt County, where we so desperately want to be recognized as the cannabis capital of the world, I think we should do our best to pretend like we’re happy about it too.
We need to think about how it looks to cannabis consumers when we grumble about legalization. Grumbling about legalization tells consumers that we wish they still had to pay Drug War prices for weed, and that we don’t give a fuck how many of them have to go to jail to make it happen. That’s not really the image we want to project to the newly liberated cannabis consumers of California. Instead, we need to treat cannabis legalization as a momentous occasion. Despite the terrible job they did of it all, this really is a giant step forward towards complete legalization at the federal level.
If we, here in Humboldt County, want to compete in the legal market, claim a strong market share, we need bright shining happy faces eager to serve an empowered customer with many new choices. The days of sitting tight and acting cool are over. You need to get consumers’ attention. You need to show them that you have something more to offer, and that you will go the extra mile for them. It’s a brand new ballgame, and we need to play ball.
I don’t think people will come here just to see a pot farm, though. Nobody goes to Iowa to watch corn grow, even though we all love popcorn. I think we should learn a lesson from Anheiser-Busch. They recognized that a brewery, by itself, only attracts beer-drinkers, but if you throw in a sky-ride, a water-slide, and a talking parrot show, you’ve got entertainment for the whole family and you’ve created a magical situation that allows dad to spend quality time with the family and get plowed all at the same time. And so, Busch Garden’s the world’s first beer themed family theme park was born, and eventually grew into one of Florida’s major tourist attractions.
I think we need something like that, here in Humboldt County, for weed. Call it Ganjaland, or Weed-World, or Marijuanaville. Put in a sky-ride where the gondolas look like CAMP helicopters, and we can have the only water-slide in America with live salmon in it. We could have a scary roller-coaster called “The Headrush” and if we got all of our local Samba bands, belly-dancers and burlesque troops involved we’d have more than enough entertainment. Throw in some virtual reality games and hypnotic psychedelic light shows, and you’ve got something that will bring families from around the globe.
Of course, you’d need lots of music. What would weed be without music? What would music be without weed? We could divide the park into little theme villages depending on what kind of music you would hear there. For instance, you might go to “Da Hood” to hear hip-hop and rap, or “The Ranch” for C+W, maybe “Trenchtown” for Reggae or “Dead Phish Lake” for all of the jam-bands. Each theme village would have it’s own attractions, as well as food vendors and cannabis specialties.
You could sell jerk chicken on a stick, coconut with lime, and fat spliffs of ganja in “Trenchtown.” You could enjoy burgers and fries, and longneck Coors and Budweisers, with a big chaw of cannabis dip between your cheek and gum at The Rance. In “Da Hood” we’d have blunts, 40s and mac n cheese, and at Dead Phish lake you can get sushi, or a veggie burrito to go with your microbrew, while you poke a kind nug into the bowl of your favorite piece of art glass.
In Tommorowland, all you’ll hear are the anguished wails of future generations, so no one wants to go there. Instead, we’ll have “Yesterdayland,” where you can’t take your phone, and park employees, dressed as NYPD cops usher you into a carriage that looks like the backseat of a squad car, for a ride that simulates the trip to Rikers Island. When you finally get off of that ride, more park employees, dressed as your parents, smoking cigarettes and sipping cocktails, will tell you how disappointed they are in you, and men in lab coats will chase you around asking you to pee in a cup.
Probably nobody really wants to go to Yesterdayland either, so let’s just keep it all in the here and now, and celebrate this milestone for what it is, a tidal shift in the War on Drugs. Things will never be the same again. This is the beginning of a whole new world of opportunity for anyone with the imagination and drive to challenge the unknown, but it is also the end of an era.
The War on Drugs is like the Vietnam War in that way. Some people made a lot of money off of it, a lot of people lost their lives in it, but all of us were affected by it. Even though that era was a dark stain on our history, a lot of people will miss it, and many people will have trouble adjusting to life without it. For now, let’s try to see it from the cannabis consumer’s point of view. Monday, January 1st is beautiful new day. It is a day to stand tall and breathe free, so let’s all stand tall, breathe free, and celebrate the freedom to enjoy our favorite herb, on our own terms, for our own reasons, legally, for the first time in 80 years. It’s really about time.
The trimmigrants really snuck up on me this year. A few Fridays, maybe a month, ago we were all talking about how dead it was in town. I recognized every face in the Garberville Town Square that day, strictly locals. The following Thursday evening, however, at home, almost 20 miles from town, 3 miles from the nearest county road, I heard a faint “halo” outside my window. I looked up to see two young women with big backpacks, looking at me with hopeful eyes.
“Do you think you could maybe, please, give us a ride to where the dirt road meets the paved road?” one of them asked with an accent I didn’t quite recognize. It was about 7:00pm, dusk. I asked them what they planned to do when they got to the end of the dirt road. “Hitchhike back to town.” she told us. I advised against hitchhiking after dark. I told them that they were welcome to camp around our place until morning, and that we had planned to go to town ourselves, the next day. “No” she replied, “We want to get out of here now.”
I could tell she was frightened. I asked her how they got here. She told us that one of our neighbors had hired them. He told them he had a few weeks work for them, but after two days, and one night, he had completely freaked them out. He had scared them so badly that they decided they would rather hitchhike back to town, after dark, than spend another night at his place. We understood completely. We gave them a ride to town.
By Southern Humboldt standards, we live in a pretty good neighborhood. We don’t know everyone in our neighborhood, and there’s some we know that we wish we didn’t, but I do know that we have a lot of dangerous men around here, who live alone on large tracts of land. I believe these women had good reason to be frightened, and we were happy help them get away from a scary situation.
On the way to town they filled us in on more of the details. One of them was from Belgium and the other, Argentina. They had met in Mexico, and came here together looking for work, in hopes of extending their travels. Originally, they were a group of five, with three guys, but my neighbor singled out the two women, and they got into his car. He told them he lived on a “peace community” where they “practice permaculture and green building techniques.” They became suspicious when they didn’t see anyone else there. He also became more unpredictable, and went from peaceful, green, eco-hippie, to angry psychopath without warning, and at the slightest provocation.
They both seemed very shaken by the experience, and were kicking themselves for their poor judgment. I could tell that they had never met anyone like this guy before, and he really scared them. We commiserated. I explained that a lot of people who live out here, alone, on large tracts of rugged land, do so because they don’t get along with people very well, and living out here doesn’t really help them develop those skills. We warned them that there are more guys like our neighbor out in these woods, and encouraged them to be more careful.
We wished them luck as we helped them unload their packs in Redway, where they headed straight into Deb’s for the wifi, and something to eat. All around us there seemed to be dozens of young, hopeful-looking people, with big backpacks, getting in and out of vehicles. Suddenly, we have trimmigrants everywhere. Since then, several people have asked me, in a variety of accents, if I know where they can find work. I’ve seen people hitchhiking at every conceivable intersection, and there’s a lot more young people in town, not as many as in years past, I think, but still a good showing.
I see them shopping all over town. Local merchants should be happy about that. Things had been pretty slow in town, for a while, before all of these kids arrived. Trimmigrants have got to make up a significant portion of the tourist dollars spent here in SoHum. Still, I see “No Trimmigrants” bumperstickers all over the place.
How bad do things have to get, economically, before we start to appreciate the people who come here and spend their money in our stores, restaurants and hotels? I’ve got a feeling we’re going to find out. Let’s hope we haven’t scared them all away by then.
I hate to write about the Mateel Community Center, because there’s a baby in that bathwater, and because we really need a community center in Southern Humboldt. Much as I enjoy criticizing the gross excesses, pathetic deficiencies and laughably dishonest mythology of this community, I don’t want to be the one to tell us that our baby is dead. However, the Mateel Board’s decision to suspend the Mateel Meal program indicates to me that this latest trip to the Intensive Care Ward might be too little too late.
As a community center, the Mateel has always been exceptional. I don’t know of any other community center that could pull off an undertaking like Reggae on the River, or even Summer Arts and Music Festival, in it’s present incarnation. As we now see, big festivals are a big gamble. They have the potential to make a lot of money, but they cost a lot to produce, and if attendance falls, the losses can be catastrophic. Most community centers would never take that kind of risk with the community’s resources.
Summer Arts and Music Festival used to be the kind of event a community center would put on. In fact Summer Arts and Music Festival predates the Mateel as a community function. Before SoHum became a marijuana mono-culture, a lot of people around here made and sold art, pottery, cabinetry, candles, clothing, musical instruments and other handcrafted items, and relied on that income to survive. I know because I was one of them. I used to make a living selling my crafts at, mostly community center sponsored craft shows, all over Northern California and Southern Oregon. SAMF used to be one of the better ones.
Since the Reggae Wars, however, the focus of SAMF has changed. I wouldn’t call it an arts and crafts show anymore. I’d call it a music festival with arts and crafts. Now, instead of sponsoring a festival for the benefit of local artists and craftspeople, the Mateel expects artists and craftspeople, increasingly from out of the area, to finance a music festival, for the benefit of the community center.
Artists and craftspeople need community support, and they rely on institutions like community centers to survive and thrive. Helping local artists is an important function of a community center, and it pays to help artists in your community thrive. Supporting the arts builds economic diversity; it builds local culture and it encourages creativity. The goal of Summer Arts and Music should be to help local artists, craftspeople and musicians get their careers off the ground, not to make money off of them. If the local arts scene diminishes while the community center thrives, something’s wrong.
Reggae on the River also used to help people in our community much more than it does now. ROTR used to bring a lot more people from out of the area, and more of those people needed weed. Local growers sold A LOT of pot at Reggae on the River. Today, everyone in California has easy access to cannabis, and there are plenty of reggae festivals to attend. Now ROTR relies on local people to buy tickets, and since it’s just us, nobody needs weed, so growers don’t make much money at Reggae on the River anymore.
Reggae On The River is a massive undertaking that consumes people’s lives and our community center’s resources, and now it demands that we, as a community, make a commitment to spend a bunch of money to attend a four-day drug orgy where we drink way too much beer and chain smoke fat spliffs of ganja while he choke on dust in the August heat. That’s a lot to ask of a community. What’s more, it probably isn’t very good for us.
Things change, and sometimes we forget why we do things. One thing that hasn’t changed very much is the need for a hot nutritious meal. Every community has hungry people, and ours is no exception. The need for a hot free meal in Southern Humboldt remains as strong as ever. People in our community would feel better, think better and make better decisions if they got a good nutritious meal that day. Children in our community would do better in school and have a better chance for success, and mom would have an easier time making ends meet if they could get a free meal every once in a while. A free meal could help a lot of self-employed people get through a rough month or two, and really help unemployed people stay strong while they look for work.
Besides that, we benefit from sitting down to a meal together, as a community. We have a lot of lonely people here in SoHum. A lot of people around here are hungrier for company than they are for food. In many ways, bringing people together to share a free meal is the essence of community, and the Mateel used to do it pretty well.
Bob Binairs invited me to help out in the Mateel Meal kitchen back when we first moved here, and it was a great experience. Good food, good company and good vibes. The Mateel had enough of that revolutionary radical hippie spirit that made people proud to eat there. I was proud to eat there, and I met some great people there. Every free meal strikes a blow against capitalism and feeding people is a revolutionary act. It felt good to share a meal with comrades at the Mateel.
Over the years, however, those radical, revolutionary hippie ideas like “community” have steadily withered away in people’s minds in the face of an onslaught of even more radical, right-wing “free-market” rhetoric from corporate mass media. Fewer people understand ideas like “community” anymore, let alone believe in them. Unless the idea of “community” lives in people’s hearts and minds, they’ll never understand the importance of a community center, or what they should expect of one.
This constant barrage of disempowering messages from corporate media, and a changing culture, not to mention the greed that sparked the greenrush, has changed the way people around here think and see the world. Today, a lot of people want to make Southern Humboldt more exclusive. They don’t want to help their neighbor; they want to exclude needy people from their neighborhood. Here in SoHum we have a lot of people who want to use hunger as a weapon to drive poverty out of town.
The Mateel Meal program has been under attack for years, by a growing faction who believe that feeding hungry people only encourages more of them to come here. They don’t want to see needy people, let alone eat with them. They prefer to use their money to exclude people, rather than support their neighbors, and they intend to make Southern Humboldt more exclusive and upscale by starving poor people out.
The Mateel Hall is overflowing with donated food. The kitchen remains there in the hall, mostly unused, and all of the labor to put on the Mateel Meal is done by unpaid volunteers. At the most recent Mateel meeting, it was reported that the reasons for suspending the Mateel Meal included: the donated food is taking up more than its allotted space, and that the Mateel Meal puts extra wear and tear on the floor because the floor has to be mopped after every meal.
The easy solution to too much donated food is to feed more people, and if we wear-out the floor of the Mateel Hall by providing free meals, that floor will have been well used indeed. I don’t see any excuse for preserving the floorboards at the expense of hungry people in our community. People here need this food, today, before it goes bad, and the people who donated it, wanted it to be eaten, not thrown away. The Mateel Board has not only gambled with the community’s resources, they’ve used their bad decisions as an excuse to block this genuine volunteer effort to feed hungry people in our community.
Things change, and after 30 years of devicive rhetoric, gangsta rap and the rise of Randian, libertarian social Darwinism, there might not be enough people left around here who even understand that radical, revolutionary hippie idea we call “community,” let alone believe in it enough to support a community center anymore. Today we see that even a majority of the Mateel Board of Directors seems unclear on the concept. What are the chances they can convey it to the rest of us, convincingly? If the Mateel Community Center fails, it won’t be because they lost too much money at ROTR, it will be because we no longer understand, or believe in, the revolutionary concept of community.