John Hardin / @ 8:50 a.m. / Op-Ed

HARDIN: We Sent an Invitation to ‘Big Pot’


I had a nice chat with Linda Stansberry about “the Green Rush,” and it got me to 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.

Second, after all of the wrangling about big grows vs small grows, the terms of the new county commercial 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.”

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.


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