While pot industry shills like Hezekiah Allen warn of mass unemployment and economic hardship without continued taxpayer subsidized price supports for marijuana, we should realize by now that drug dealers will say anything to keep the cash rolling in. In truth, government price support programs for marijuana don’t support our local economy, here in Humboldt County, so much as they suppress it.

The War on Drugs created a windfall of profits for anyone who produces marijuana. This windfall buried our real economic potential, which we never really developed because pot paid so much better. We’ve become a marijuana monoculture dependent on corrupt politicians, violent cops and greedy drug dealers all working together to exploit and oppress the American people. That’s not an economy; that’s a crime. Besides, most of the so-called “jobs” in the marijuana industry aren’t even considered part of the economy.

Most people who make a living from marijuana don’t pay into Social Security and aren’t covered by Workman’s Comp, so they don’t count as being “employed.” Since they aren’t looking for work or collecting unemployment, they don’t count as “unemployed” either. Thanks to the War on Drugs, the marijuana industry has become a black hole that sucks people and money out of the economy and leaves a trail of poverty, addiction and death in its wake.

We don’t have prosperity here. We have organized crime. What’s the difference? In prosperity, people have jobs and homes and their kids get enough to eat and learn how to succeed in the world. In organized crime, people go missing and turn up dead, honest work is for suckers, and kids become addicted to drugs and commit suicide. The difference is pretty stark, really. The only way to avoid seeing the difference is to measure the cash flow exclusively. Even from that perspective, organized crime doesn’t really look like prosperity; organized crime just looks as attractive as prosperity to people who don’t care about anything but money.

Here, you could always make more money growing weed than you could make doing anything else, so growing marijuana became a “no brainer” for people around here. Consequently, we have a lot of “no brainer”-type people who feel entitled to middle-class incomes and lifestyles but have no education or skills outside of herb gardening. We’ve been overrun by dull, greedy people who believe that cannabis is the only thing of value. They don’t mind being one-trick-ponies, even if it is a kind of a dirty trick, but most of us have more potential than that.

It’s been about 10 years since Anna Hamilton first asked the question: “What’s After Pot?” The unanimous response from the community has been “More Pot!” Instead of beginning a movement to diversify our economy, people treated Anna’s wake-up call as the shot from a starting pistol that signaled the beginning of the greenrush. Everyone doubled down on dope, but now the pressure is on.

Small growers get squeezed, and everyone’s profit margins shrink, as big players with deep pockets gamble for control of the legal cannabis market. As more states legalize cannabis and bring industrial scale production online, the price of raw cannabis continues to drop. Downward pressure on the price of cannabis opens up more economic potential by multiplying the opportunities for value-added cannabis products. The new openness of the legal market means that there’s a whole world of cannabis lifestyle products and service tie-ins to explore. However, lower prices for raw cannabis means that Humboldt County’s marijuana windfall will evaporate.

There’s plenty of economic potential here in SoHum for anyone with the imagination, ingenuity and drive to realize it. Unfortunately, 40 years of cannabis windfall has pretty much bred the imagination, ingenuity and drive out of us. Instead of facing reality and working together as a community to diversify and humanize our economy, we’re all busy milking the War on Drugs right to the last drop. The question is: What is the last drop for you? Is it $800 a pound? $500? $300? How low can you go and still make money from weed in Humboldt County?

You can get more for your weed if you sell it retail and work it into our tourism appeal, but then you have to be prepared for a whole bunch of unruly young people coming here to get high. We have that now, and it’s the thing people complain most about. If we want this area to remain famous for herb and you still want to make a living from it, we’ll need to be more accommodating to pot smokers of all stripes, especially the young and unkempt.

To sell herb retail in a legal market, Humboldt County needs to be as accommodating to unkempt hippies as fast food retailers are to obese people, or bartenders are to alcoholics. It comes with the territory. If the idea of graciously serving hippies with dogs and backpacks and making them feel at home seems repugnant to you, maybe you weren’t cut out for the marijuana industry after all. Around here, we don’t recognize our economic potential. Instead, we call the cops on it, beat it senseless on the town square and convene town meetings on how to get rid of it.

If we suffer massive unemployment or economic hardship because of falling cannabis prices, it is only because the windfall from the War on Drugs blinded us to our true economic potential and robbed us of our moxie. If we succeed in this new legal environment, it will be because enough of us realized that we have other skills and talents that we never called on because we always had marijuana. We may find that those skills and talents lead us in new directions and towards more satisfying lives. In that respect, falling marijuana prices just might be the best thing that ever happened to us.


John Hardin writes at Like You’ve Got Something Better to Do.