Right now I see a lot of people scrambling frantically to find their niche in the legal marijuana market. In our eagerness to compete in this rapidly evolving market, we should be very careful not to overlook the infected wounds still festering in this county from the War on Drugs, nor should we miss the opportunity to take pride in our heritage, for our role in the marijuana underground, because that is the story of the Humboldt brand.

I realize that’s a lot to pack into one sentence, but we need to think about this. Even if a lot of Humboldt County cannabis farmers do well in the legal market, we still have a whole lot of people in Humboldt County who grew up in the black market, and have no other marketable skills or education. They have been traumatized by the War on Drugs, and a lot of them have developed problems with drugs and alcohol as a result. They are never going to become weed tycoons in the legal market, but they were born and raised here in Humboldt County. They grew up in the marijuana underground. They fought the War on Drugs, and they built the Humboldt brand. You can’t sweep them under the rug without sweeping the Humboldt brand away with them.

The County didn’t haul sacks of chicken shit up the side of a mountain in the rain — they did. The County doesn’t have a panic attack every time it hears a helicopter — they do. The County didn’t grow the best marijuana anyone anyone had ever tasted — they did. Humboldt County never got arrested for marijuana. Humboldt County never had a gun stuck in its face over marijuana, and Humboldt County was never denied a job, kicked out of school, or had a Workman’s Comp claim denied because it smoked marijuana — but they did.

Their sweat, their tears and the wounds they suffered in the War on Drugs, as well as the addictions they developed as a result of that pain, built the Humboldt brand. Unless we acknowledge that suffering, the Humboldt brand is worthless. On the other hand, the more we acknowledge that suffering, and treat the wounds we have suffered in the War on Drugs, as a community, the more we can celebrate the accomplishments of the marijuana underground, and the ingenuity and courage it took to fight the War on Drugs, and the more the Humboldt brand is genuinely worth. It seems paradoxical, but we can’t expect other people to respect us for what we do here, if we can’t even respect ourselves, our community, our environment, and our heritage.

We can’t hide the problems the War on Drugs has created in our community behind the money the War on Drugs brought to us. Instead of trying to hide the poverty and addiction we see around us, or beating it to death on the streets of Garberville and Redway, we need to recognize how much our community has suffered in the War on Drugs. We need to show the world what prohibition has done to us, because unless they see the damage that was done to us, they cannot appreciate the heroic effort it took to fight the War on Drugs. For the world to recognize the War on Drugs as a real war, the world has to see real casualties, and we’ve got them.

The more we focus on how the War on Drugs affects us, and take stock of what it cost, the easier it will be for people to understand who we are and identify with us. Most cannabis consumers don’t know what it is like to enjoy a six-figure, tax-free, income from a black market commodity, but they do know what it is like to be terrorized by cops. Millions of people all over the country have been busted for marijuana and had their lives turned upside-down by it. From that perspective, they understand what we’ve been through. They’re traumatized too. They know that Humboldt County was ground zero in the War on Drugs, and they’ve seen how the War on Drugs has affected themselves, their family, and friends. If we can respect and acknowledge our own truth, they will recognize it as our strength, and draw strength from it.

Marijuana culture survived, endured and ultimately prevailed after more than 40 years of war because marijuana culture is strong, and Humboldt County is at the heart of marijuana culture. Marijuana is medicine, and that is why Humboldt County should be a place of healing for the wounds of the War on Drugs. We were at the center of it; we are at the heart of it; and we need it the most. The more we look after the people among us who are suffering, and the more we pull together as a community, the more we demonstrate the strength of marijuana culture to the world around us, and the more attractive it becomes. By acknowledging the violence and trauma of the War on Drugs, and working to heal our own wounds as a community, we rebuild the strength of marijuana culture, and reestablish Humboldt County as its heart, legitimately and honestly. That’s how we build the Humboldt brand.

We can’t truthfully say that Humboldt-grown weed is of higher quality than weed grown in a warehouse in Oakland, or anywhere else for that matter. These days, everybody’s weed is plenty strong, if you can just keep the pesticides out of it. As this industry professionalizes, quality becomes a baseline expectation. Brand loyalty will be built on other factors including price, taste, convenience, packaging, and a whole slew of psychological factors. Whether you smoke Marlboros or Winstons probably has more to do with how you feel about cowboys and racecars than it does with any difference in quality. Similarly, successful cannabis marketing depends more on understanding cannabis users and their culture than it does with producing higher quality marijuana.


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