A couple of weeks ago I attended the Southern Humboldt Community Values Conference at the Mateel Community Center in Redway. As soon as I heard about this event, I knew I had to attend. I knew I had to attend because:

  • I wanted to see who in Southern Humboldt cares enough about community values to show up to an event at 9:00 am on a Sunday morning in April without the lure of alcohol or music. I wanted to meet those people, and…
  • I genuinely care about community values.

These days, people endure enormous economic stress. Economic stress compromises, corrupts and crushes values, as well as the people who cling to them. This economy grinds values into garbage just as efficiently as it does redwood trees, rhinoceroses or the rest of us. If you value anything more than money, I think it more important than ever to remind yourself why, and to draw strength from that knowledge. If we share values as a community, we can share that knowledge, and reinforce those values, to make our community stronger and more cohesive. Really, I understand the importance of community values, but I also understood the motivation for this conference.

The Southern Humboldt Values Conference was sponsored by an organization called SHC, which supports and lobbies on behalf of cannabis growers. They had the idea to use Southern Humboldt’s “community values” as a marketing tool, to help them promote and sell their branded cannabis products. They constructed the conference so that no matter what happened, at the end of it, they would have a list of value statements that they could then distill down to a logo that they could slap on product labels and use in advertising to convince cannabis consumers that their pot was worth more money than pot grown elsewhere.

Basically, the Southern Humboldt Community Values Conference was a scheme dreamed up by pot growers to cash in on anyone left in SoHum who cares about anything but money. You didn’t even have to care that much. At the conference, all you had to do, to express your values, was to show up and give them lip service. You didn’t have to live them, invest in them, or practice them; they just had to sound good to you on a sober Sunday morning in April.

About 30 people showed up to participate in the conference, and another 10-15 straggled in late, missing most of the process. In other words, more than 99 percent of the SoHum community had better things to do. When you consider that at least a few of the participants were motivated by the potential ad campaign they hoped to create, you would have to admit that “community values,” on their own, are not a big draw in SoHum, but now that we’ve done the hard work of establishing our “community values,” what shall we do to instill them in the rest of our community?

For instance, one of the value statements we generated was some word-salad gobbledygook about how much we love the natural environment. All of the value statements we generated at the conference came out as such convoluted and poorly written sentences that I could not summon the energy to write them down. I found it embarrassing to have even participated in composing them, and I would have been even more embarrassed for anyone to see them written in my notebook. I do recall, however, that this word-salad value statement about how much we love the natural environment, contained the phrase, “we honor the cycles of nature.”

That sounds good, right? I’m down with it. I think we should honor and respect all of nature, including human nature, so sure — if we can at least get “the cycles of nature” into our community values statement, that’s great. At least “honor the cycles of nature” implies that nature is alive. As I recall, the rest of that value statement referred to the natural environment in terms of how we consume it, using words like “scenic beauty” and “peace and quiet,” but we all agreed on, and adopted, “honor the cycles of nature” as part of our cherished community values, while we ignored other values like eloquence and clarity entirely.

OK. Now we’ve had this conference, and we’ve established that honoring the cycles of nature is a stated, adopted and cherished Southern Humboldt Community Value©. Shouldn’t we make it clear to all of the people around here growing light-dep and mixed-light cannabis that they have gotten out of step with our community values? Will SHC refuse to allow light-dep or mixed-light product to be labeled with the “Southern Humboldt Community Values©” label?

I mean, it’s bad enough that light-dep and mixed-light growers waste panda plastic by the truckload, create noise and light pollution that disrupts wildlife behavior and pollute and destroy critical habitat here in SoHum, but none of that conflicts with our newly adopted community values. On the other hand, light-dep and mixed-light growers definitely cheat the cycles of nature for profit, which is clearly not in accord with our stated community values. Should we tolerate this heinous affront to our shared community values here in Southern Humboldt?

Often community values conflict with economic opportunity. People who believe in community values will uphold the values of their community, no matter how ridiculous they seem or how much they cost, in terms of missed economic opportunities, because it’s more important to most people to be a part of a community than it is to be rich and alone in secret. That’s the paradox of community values in Southern Humboldt. Here in SoHum, we have a whole community of people who have decided that they would rather be rich and alone in secret than uphold community values.

Humboldt’s growers should realize that the people who buy their product are all expected to uphold community values, every day, even if they work for minimum wage, which a lot of them do. Even the poor and homeless are constantly reminded to uphold community values, so I doubt that anyone will be willing to pay much of a premium for it in their marijuana. Think about how many marijuana consumers have been kicked out of school, discriminated against in the workplace and persecuted by law enforcement, because they smoke marijuana, and how much that has cost them in terms of lost income, pain and suffering, and then think about how much these people have paid for weed over the years because of prohibition. How much chutzpah does it take to imply that there is anything like “fair trade” going on here?

Besides the gobbledygook about the natural environment, we had one value statement that involved respect for countercultures, and talked about accepting refugees from all wars, but within it, we included the phrase “we speak in code and privacy is key.” That’s very important to remember when dealing with people in Southern Humboldt.

Nothing you hear, here in SoHum, really means what you think it does. When they say “community,” in SoHum, they mean “growers.” When they say “our diverse community,” they mean, “Some of us grow Headband; some of us grow Blue Dream, and some of us grow OG, but the people who work in our grocery stores, at the bank, or even on our own farms, don’t count.” “Privacy is is key” means “you’ll never find out what we are up to unless we get busted for it.”

The truest, most relevant, and elegantly stated value statement of the entire conference came, near the end, from a cheerful, bright-eyed young woman who obviously knows this community well. She said, “It’s kinda like we all killed the same person and we’ve all been covering it up.”

That’s pretty close to the truth. Since the casualties of the War on Drugs number in the millions by now, it would have been more accurate to use the plural form of the noun, but after a long day of torturing the English language, I really appreciated the honesty and eloquence.